The International Olympic Committee has reacted quickly to refute allegations that this summer’s rescheduled Tokyo Games are to be cancelled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The rebuttal came within hours of both the BBC and The Times of London publishing stories about the Games being scrapped after a surge of coronavirus cases in the Japanese capital.
The Times published a story last Friday quoting an unnamed senior member of the Japanese ruling coalition who said the Olympics would be cancelled. “No one wants to be the first to say so, but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” said the source. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Sir Keith Mills, the chief executive of the London 2012 Olympics Committee, voiced a similar opinion in an exclusive interview with the Wake Up To Money programme on BBC Radio 5 Live: “I think they’ll leave it to absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically, in case the vaccinations roll out faster than we all hoped. It’s a tough call.
“Personally, sitting here looking at the pandemic around the world, it looks unlikely, I have to say.
“If I was sitting in the shoes of the organising committee in Tokyo, I would be making plans for a cancellation and I’m sure they have plans for a cancellation. They’ve got another month or so before they need to make a call.”
The IOC was quick to deny reports that the Games are about to be cancelled. Its statement said: “Some newspaper reports circulating today are claiming that the government of Japan has privately concluded the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus.
“This is categorically untrue … All parties are working together to prepare for a successful Games this summer.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said repeatedly that he wants the Games to go ahead, despite recent polls showing around 80 per cent of the Japanese people are against it going ahead. His country already has spent at least $25 billion on preparations for the Games, three quarters of it public money.
Speaking in parliament on Friday, Suga said the Games “will be a symbol of humanity overcoming the coronavirus, and a chance to showcase Japan’s reconstruction from the devastating earthquake and tsunami (in 2011) to the world.
“We are determined to work closely together with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Tokyo Organising Committee and the IOC to realise a safe and secure Olympics.”
The Games are scheduled to start on 23 July and run through to 8 August. The men’s golf event is due to be played at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama from 29 July to 1 August, with the women’s tournament taking place at the same venue the following week.
Kevin Na is the latest name player in the field for next week’s Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City.
The 37-year-old, five-time PGA Tour winner joins a strong American contingent along with world No. 1 Dustin Johnston, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson and Tony Finau.
European entrants include defending champion Graeme McDowell, Sergio García, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, Martin Kaymer, Danny Willett, Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter.
Na heads to the Middle East fresh from a victory in the Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club, where he birdied four of his last six holes in a closing 65 to claim a single-shot victory ahead of Chris Kirk and Joaquín Niemann. The win means he joins Johnson and DeChambeau in the select group of players who have claimed at least one PGA Tour victory in each of the past four seasons.
“The more I heard about the field for the Saudi International, the more I felt like I didn’t want to miss out,” said Na. “The depth and the strength of the field in Saudi is what really appealed to me.
“I haven’t played in many European Tour events in recent years, so I’m really looking forward to getting back out there and visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time.”
Na isn’t the only player who will remember the Sony Open with fondness for the rest of his career.
Kirk was making his last start on a major medical extension and needed a top-three finish to regain full playing privileges on the PGA Tour. That’s exactly what he achieved when a closing round of 65 saw him tie for second place with Niemann.
Kirk, 35, claimed two victories on the 2014 PGA Tour – the RSM Classic and Deutsche Bank Classic. However, he admitted to battling alcoholism and depression, which forced him to step away from golf to address his issues.
“Alcoholism is a very progressive disease,” he said after getting his career back on track in Hawaii. “At the time, in 2014-15, I probably was not an alcoholic; I was just on the way to being one. After the next few years, things kind of got worse.”
Kirk’s comeback started with a win on last season’s Korn Ferry Tour at the King & Bear Classic. With his full tour card secured, he now hopes to replicate that victory on the PGA Tour.
“I’m in a great place mentally and physically and OK with who I am,” he said. “It’s allowing me potentially to get back the form I had before and actually use the skill set I’ve been blessed with.”
A collection of local citizens calling themselves Citizens For Coul has formed with the the hopes of reviving the scuttled plans for the Coul Links golf course project along the Dornoch Firth seaboard in Scotland.
In a statement on the organization's new website, the activists say a "grave disservice" was done when the Scottish Government refused a planning application for the project, and that the group's goal is to "take advantage of this once and forever opportunity to create local jobs and economic prosperity."
The application from American investor Todd Warnock and his business partners was denied last February.
The group says it plans to introduce a new planning application later in 2021 for the golf course and a hotel.
The JP McManus Pro-Am is the latest golf event to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tournament organisers announced last week that the sold-out pro-am – due to be held 5-6 July at Adare Manor, Co. Limerick, featuring the likes of Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy – will be postponed until 4-5 July 2022.
It is the second time the event has been postponed, also having been rescheduled last year. The decision may have an adverse impact on the strength of the field at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, to be played 1-4 July at Mount Juliet, Co. Kilkenny.
The McManus event was expected to attract a crowd of 40,000, making it a logistical nightmare for organisers at a time when the pandemic is still not under control.
The JP McManus Pro-Am is one of Ireland’s biggest fundraisers. Five previous events have contributed almost €100 million to charitable causes.
The South African Amateur Swing is set to start early next month despite a raft of coronavirus restrictions.
The South African Stroke Play Championship, African Amateur Stroke Play and South African Amateur will be played between 1 February and 19 February in the Johannesburg area, albeit without nearly as many foreign competitors as normal.
“It is disappointing that, due to the circumstances surrounding the worldwide pandemic and the restrictions imposed by countries abroad on travel to South Africa, we have lost some international participation this year,” GolfRSA chief executive officer Grant Hepburn admitted.
“However, this opens up the opportunity for more of our local players to qualify for, and compete in, our flagship events. The invaluable experience they will gain from competing against the cream of amateur golf in South Africa will benefit their careers in the long run.”
Scotland and Ireland have decided not to send representatives to South Africa this year. However, among those competing in the African Amateur are England’s Jake Bolton, Jack Brooks, Callum Farr, Harry Goddard, Joe Harvey, Haider Hussain, Matty Lamb and Charlie Strickland; Germany’s Marc Hammer, Jannik De Bruyn and Philipp Matlari; Switzerland’s Robert Foley and France’s Charles Larcelet. The full fields for the South African Stroke Play and the South African Amateur are still to be announced.
The man all the competitors will have to beat is 17-year-old South African Casey Jarvis, who last year became just the seventh player to win the South African Stroke Play and the South African Amateur in the same calendar year. He is now bidding to become the first man to complete the sweep of his country’s top amateur events by adding the African Amateur to his trophy collection.
Ana Peláez’s victory in the Copa Andalucía sees her replace Carolina López-Chacarra Coto as the top ranked Spanish player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Peláez, from Málaga, defeated López-Chacarra Coto and Ana Amalia Pina Ortega by five shots at Guadalmina Golf Club. The victory moves University of South Carolina student Peláez five spots to world No. 27. López-Chacarra Coto drops one ranking to 33rd.
Seville native Gonzalo Leal Montero won the men’s Copa Andalucía at Atalaya Golf & Country Club by six shots with four consecutive 68s. The University of Iowa student advances 117 positions to 451st in the world.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre isn’t too concerned if he doesn’t make this year’s Masters, but he doesn’t want to miss the Ryder Cup. The left-hander began the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship ranked 51st in the world. If he is inside the top 50 on 25 March then a Masters invitation will pop through his letterbox at his home in Oban, Scotland. However, MacIntyre, who earned his maiden European Tour win in last November’s Cyprus Showdown, won’t lose much sleep if he doesn’t tee it up this year in his first Masters.
“I have got plenty of years to be playing the Masters,” he said. “I am not really worried about the Augusta stuff. It’s a by-product of good golf. If I keep improving year on year, even just by little bits, it will all take care of itself.”
As for the Ryder Cup, MacIntyre is glad last year’s match was postponed because it gives him a better chance to make his debut. “It’s obviously been on the horizon,” he admitted. “It’s in my sights, but again I’ve got to play good golf. Everything will happen for me if I play good golf.”
Colin Callander and Alistair Tait