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Olympic travel a big challenge for some Pacific Island teams

Olympic travel a big challenge for some Pacific Island teams

Famous athletes in sports like tennis and golf at the Tokyo Olympics will probably arrive in Japan in the front of the planeBy STEVE McMORRAN AP Sports WriterJuly 7, 2021, 7:15 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWELLINGTON, New Zealand — Famous athletes in sports like tennis and golf heading to the Tokyo Olympics will probably arrive in Japan at the front of the plane.It’s a style to which the athletes of the Pacific Islands are unaccustomed. Fiji’s gold medal-winning men’s rugby sevens team will arrive in Tokyo along with the other members of their national team on Thursday on a cargo/freight flight which is hauling mostly frozen fish.Commercial passenger flights to and from Pacific nations have become scarce during the pandemic. Lorraine Mar, the chief executive of the Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee, said Wednesday that arranging travel for the Fiji team to Tokyo has been a “logistical challenge.”Mar said around 51 athletes and officials, mostly the Fiji men’s and women’s sevens squad, will be on Thursday’s flight from Fiji’s principal international airport at Nadi. It’s a regularly-scheduled freight flight which has some capacity for passengers.The sevens teams recently have been based in Australia where the Fiji men won the Oceania Sevens title in Townsville, Queensland two weeks ago. The men’s team gave Fiji its first-ever Olympic gold medal when it won the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens tournament in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.The Fiji teams were originally expected to fly directly from Australia to Tokyo, but plans were changed at the last minute due to new COVID-19-related restrictions in Asia.Apart from the sevens teams, the Fiji team includes one track and field athlete, two swimmers, a female table tennis player and a judo competitor who currently is based in Japan.Mar said dealing with athletes’ departures from Japan also is a challenge. The IOC requires athletes to vacate the Olympic village within 48 hours of the conclusion of their events.Fiji has a flight booked from Tokyo to Nadi on July 29, after the sevens tournament has concluded and which could also carry other athletes who have been eliminated or have finished competing. Another flight is booked on Aug. 10.Mar hopes the IOC will grant dispensation for athletes who are unable to immediately obtain flights home to remain in the village until travel is available.Among other Pacific Island nations, Samoa has already withdrawn its three-member weightlifting from the games because all are based in Samoa and the Samoa government is concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in Japan. Eight Samoan athletes who are based overseas will still compete.They comprise two boxers based in Australia, four sailors and canoeists based in New Zealand, a track athlete based in the United States and a judoka based in Japan.Tonga will send six competitors, all but two of whom are based overseas. They include Pita Taufatofua — the “naked Tongan” — who was a bare-chested sensation when he carried the Tongan flag in the opening ceremony of the Rio games.Taufatofua, who will compete in taekwondo in Tokyo, also represented Tonga in cross-country skiing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.————More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

3 Samoan weightlifters to miss Olympics over virus concerns

3 Samoan weightlifters to miss Olympics over virus concerns

The Samoan government says three home-based members of the Samoa Olympic weightlifting team will not be allowed to compete in Tokyo due to COVID-19 concerns in JapanBy STEVE McMORRAN AP Sports WriterJuly 2, 2021, 12:19 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWELLINGTON, New Zealand — The Samoan government says three home-based members of the Samoa Olympic weightlifting team will not be allowed to compete in Tokyo due to COVID-19 concerns in Japan.Minister of Communications Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i said in a statement that the nation’s Cabinet had decided to withdraw Samoa-based members of the team because of Japan’s high infection rate.Cases in Tokyo have been steadily on the rise. Experts warn the highly contagious delta strain could trigger rapid resurgence of the infections that may require another state of emergency even during the games starting on July 23.The president of the Samoa Olympic Committee, Patrick Fepulea’i, released a statement on Thursday confirming the government announcement but clarifying that eight other overseas-based members of the team will still compete in Japan“Samoa has 11 athletes who have qualified to compete at the Olympic Games,” Fepulea’i said. “Of these three are based in Samoa (all members of weightlifting team), two are based in Australia (boxing team), four are based in New Zealand (sailing and canoeing team), one in the U.S. (athletics) and one already in Japan (judo).“In addition are the coaches and the management team that would accompany these athletes. The team most affected by the government decision is the weightlifting team based in Samoa. We fully understand the logic behind the government decision, especially the need to protect Samoa from the virus.”The news came as members of the Samoan men’s and women’s rugby sevens teams were reported to be stranded in Dubai on their way home from an Olympic qualifying tournament in Monaco after being denied re-entry to Samoa for failing to comply with their government’s COVID-19 protocols.Neither team has qualified for the Tokyo Games.The plight of the teams was first highlighted on Twitter by former Samoa international Daniel Leo, who said team management had run out of funds and the players were depending on Dubai-based Samoans for food and accommodation. The UAE Rugby Union and Asia Rugby have since said they are working to assist the teams.Leo said the teams, which have to transit through New Zealand on their way to Samoa, are likely stranded until the next flight to Auckland on July 27.Samoa’s caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi appeared to confirm the reports in a regular weekly television appearance. The prime minister suggested team managers had failed to ensure the teams met Samoa’s COVID requirements.“I think approximately 30 people are affected by this in Dubai . . . so now we are faced with a difficult decision,” Tuilaepa said. “And our decision, based on safety, (is that) we will still wait until they are fully vaccinated because this is a failure on the manager’s side. He should have looked into this.”The Samoa Observer newspaper quoted an official of the Manu Sina women’s team, who asked not to be named, as saying the teams were hopeful of flying to Auckland on July 27.Team members contacted by the newspaper said they had been kept in the dark about the reasons for their stranding. They initially heard they had been unable to secure places in managed isolation in Auckland where the team would have completed 14 days of quarantine before returning to Samoa.The Associated Press attempted to contact Manu Samoa officials by phone and email but messages have not immediately been returned.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Expert: Transgender Olympic athlete could polarize opinion

Expert: Transgender Olympic athlete could polarize opinion

An American expert on transgender rights and politics says the participation of New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard at the Tokyo Olympics could inspire other trans athletesBy STEVE McMORRAN AP Sports WriterJune 24, 2021, 5:37 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWELLINGTON, New Zealand — A U.S. expert on transgender rights and politics says the participation of New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard at the Tokyo Olympics might inspire other trans athletes but could also become a focus for conservative activists who oppose greater LGBTQ rights and freedoms.Dr. Jami Taylor, professor of political science at the University of Toledo, said Hubbard might find herself in a no-win position even if she succeeds when she competes in the women’s 87-kilogram plus division.Hubbard’s selection, which will make the 43-year-old New Zealander the first trans athlete to compete at an Olympics, has already drawn criticism from some conservative commentators.“I suspect that we are going to see opponents of transgender rights frame the Hubbard situation in ways that further their own ends,” Taylor said in an email to The Associated Press. “I think they are going to have some success and I would not be shocked if the IOC and other sporting bodies end up tightening their policies if those polices were relatively permissive.“In the U.S., that has and will continue to happen at the state level until we have some national level policy.”Hubbard’s participation at Tokyo is a major milestone for transgender athletes and possibly an inspiration to others, Taylor said, but may also attract condemnation.“I think it is likely that a backlash is building on this,” she said. “We see it in various states in the U.S.“The International Olympic Committee has also noted that its policies on trans people participating are open to further review as more medical and scientific evidence emerges.”Taylor said Hubbard is “now part of this body of evidence.”“In some respects, Hubbard is in a no-win situation,” Taylor said. “If she medals, her performance will certainly be used by opponents to argue that trans women should be subject to greater restriction if not an outright ban.”Hubbard rarely gives media interviews and tends to shun the spotlight. Inevitably, though, it follows her to each competition.“In some respects, this is the best Olympic games for her to be at,” Taylor said. “The reduced crowd capacity and restrictions on yelling due to COVID-19 will limit the ability of fans to affect her performance by booing and yelling.”“It will not just be fans though,” Taylor added. “I suspect that she is going to get a lot of hostile questions from reporters . . . especially from segments of the U.S. and U.K. media who have been on the warpath over trans women in sport.”Some critics of inclusion argue that transgender women have intrinsic advantages of physiology and strength in some sports. Some female athletes have cited that in calling for Hubbard’s exclusion, and conservatives have amplified it.Taylor, who teaches in areas including public policy and American politics and is a co-author of the book “The Remarkable Rise of Transgender Rights,” conceded that the inclusion of transgender women in sport involves complicated issues.“Gender transition changes some but not all biological factors that may contribute to performance differences that exist on average between males and females,” Taylor said. “There is also the gender bias that may negatively affect sporting opportunity for many women and most trans women have not faced that.”Regardless of that, societal averages don’t compete, individuals do. And their circumstances vary. Individuals also have rights.”Hubbard, who won a silver medal at the 2017 world championships and gold in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, will be ranked fourth in the Olympic competition on Aug. 2.She competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast but sustained a serious injury that set back her career.“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard said in a statement when her selection was announced earlier this week. “When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end. But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”————More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Transgender weightlifter Hubbard selected for Tokyo Olympics

Transgender weightlifter Hubbard selected for Tokyo Olympics

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Laurel Hubbard hefted 628 pounds (185 kilograms) in two lifts on the way to qualifying in the women’s super-heavyweight division for the Tokyo Olympics.That’s heavy. But it’s nowhere near the figurative weight Hubbard has carried to become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games.Hubbard was among five weightlifters confirmed Monday in New Zealand’s team for Tokyo. At 43, she will also be the oldest weightlifter at the games, and will be ranked fourth in the competition on Aug. 2 for women 87 kilograms (192 pounds) and over.Hubbard won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships and gold in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa. She competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games but sustained a serious injury that set back her career.“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard said in a statement. “When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end. But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.“The last eighteen months has shown us all that there is strength in kinship, in community, and in working together towards a common purpose. The mana of the silver fern comes all of you and I will wear it with pride.”The additional burden Hubbard has had to carry is that her efforts have made her a flashpoint in the debate around the fairness of trans athletes competing in women’s events. She has faced anger, scorn and ridicule, and has been directly criticized by some opponents.Competing as Gavin Hubbard, her birth name, Hubbard set national records in junior competition and had a best, combined snatch and clean and jerk total of 300 kilograms (661 pounds).Hubbard transitioned eight years ago at the age of 35. She has since met all of the requirements of the International Olympic Committee’s regulations for trans athletes and fair competition.The IOC policy specifies conditions under which those who transition from male to female are eligible to compete in the female category.Among them is that the athlete has declared that her gender identity is female and that the declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.The athlete must also demonstrate that her total testosterone level is below a specific measurement for at least 12 months prior to her first competition.Hubbard met those standards.The IOC policy also states: “the overriding sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition.”Yet some within the weightlifting community argue the policy does not guarantee fair competition. The determining criteria — a maximum reading of 10 nanomoles per liter of testosterone — is as least five times more than a biological woman.Belgium’s Anna Vanbellinghen, who will likely compete against Hubbard, said the New Zealander’s presence would be “like a bad joke” for women competitors.“I am aware that defining a legal frame for transgender participation in sports is very difficult since there is an infinite variety of situations and that reaching an entirely satisfactory solution, from either side of the debate, is probably impossible,” Vanbellinghen has said. “However, anyone that has trained weightlifting at a high level knows this to be true in their bones: this particular situation is unfair to the sport and to the athletes.“Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes — medals and Olympic qualifications — and we are powerless. Of course, this debate is taking place in a broader context of discrimination against transgender people and that is why the question is never free of ideology.”Similar sentiments have been expressed by other athletes and weightlifting officials, who claim Hubbard has a natural advantage in terms of physiology and strength.But New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith said it’s clear Hubbard has met all the criteria to compete in Tokyo.“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said. “As the New Zealand Team, we have a strong culture of manaaki (hospitality) and inclusion and respect for all.”We are committed to supporting all eligible New Zealand athletes and ensuring their mental and physical wellbeing, along with their high-performance needs, while preparing for and competing at the Olympic Games are met.”Hubbard, whose father is a wealthy cereal manufacturer who became mayor of New Zealand’s largest city, seldom grants media interviews.In 2017, she explained her approach to the criticism she faces on sporting and moral grounds to the New Zealand news website Stuff.“All you can do is focus on the task at hand and if you keep doing that it will get you through,” Hubbard told Stuff. “I’m mindful I won’t be supported by everyone but I hope that people can keep an open mind and perhaps look at my performance in a broader context.“Perhaps the fact that it has taken so long for someone like myself to come through indicates that some of the problems that people are suggesting aren’t what they might seem.”————More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports