Tokyo to call for shortened hours for bars, restaurants: report



FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks walk past a restaurant near Shinagawa station on the first day after the Japanese government lifted the state of emergency in Tokyo, Japan, May 26, 2020.REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

November 25, 2020

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo will urge bars and restaurants to operate shortened hours, the latest restriction to be implemented in Japan following sharp rises in COVID-19 infections, media reported on Wednesday.

The Japanese capital has seen new daily infections soar past 500 on several days recently and the number of serious cases reached 51 on Tuesday, the most since a state of emergency was lifted in May.

The city of 14 million people will ask restaurants and bars to close at 10:00 p.m. from this Saturday until Dec. 18, broadcaster TBS reported.

A Tokyo government committee will meet to discuss coronavirus measures later on Wednesday, with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike set to hold a news conference afterwards, TBS added.

Separately, a panel of experts advising the national government is also due to meet later on Wednesday.

Japan on Tuesday paused its domestic “Go To Travel” promotion campaign in the cities of Sapporo and Osaka.

The programme, which offers discounts on fares and hotels and is part of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s efforts to help prop up regional economies, has been criticised for potentially spreading the virus from major cities to the countryside.

The Tokyo government will also look at halting a separate campaign offering subsidies for travel in the capital, TBS said.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)





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Cherry confirms bid to go out on top at 2021 Tokyo Olympics


Rather than call it a day, Cherry is strapping in once again for a shot at more Olympic glory.

“I had to reassess and that took a fair while,” Cherry said. “I didn’t just brush it off the shoulder and say, ‘yeah I’ll go another year’. I went to [coach] John [Manenti] and said I needed time to go home and see my family. I went home for two months and rejuvenated. When you miss things and when you’re away from things it gives a better perspective. I definitely came back hungrier.

“A four-year preparation towards an Olympics is exhausting. You chuck a baby in that and it’s very taxing. Since we won the last gold, I want to win another one and that never changed.”

Cherry says COVID-19 has been a “blessing in disguise” for the squad, whose favouritism has been challenged in recent years.

After the highs of Rio, Australia finished fourth in the 2018-19 World Sevens Series behind New Zealand, USA and Canada.

In the 2019-20 tournament, Australia finished second but were thumped 34-0 in the semi-final of the Sydney Sevens against Canada. Two years earlier in Sydney, they went through the entire weekend without conceding a point.

Cherry with partner Daniel and daughter Alice.

Cherry with partner Daniel and daughter Alice.

“It’s given us another year and I don’t think we were in the place we needed to be this year,” Cherry said. “We’re taking it as a blessing in disguise for our team to get better and stronger. These last six months, just realising probably we weren’t going to be good enough going to Tokyo this year. We’ve got another chance to work really hard and realise we weren’t there and if we need to be the best in the world we need to step up in these next eight months or so.

“There wasn’t that continuity between players. We’ve had some young players come in. We’ve had players like myself and Chloe Dalton go away and come back. That extra year is going to be great for us to get another year under our belt.

“Going into Rio we were confident we were one of the fittest and fastest teams in the world and we probably weren’t there this year but I think everyone has reassessed. In the past we probably could have been relying on what we did in Rio and we did well, so that was OK. We’ve had to improve standards. We’ve had to increase our expectations by a lot.”

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With no sevens tournaments locked in around the world just yet, Cherry said being able to spend more time at home rather than on the international circuit had been good for the soul.

“It’s been awesome and Rugby Australia has been very supportive with everything I have done and needed,” Cherry said. “[Alice] comes to training some days when we can’t find another babysitter. I think it’s pretty awesome she gets to come into this environment and as she gets older being around girls that are so talented and motivated and inspirational.”

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Tokyo Olympics: IOC chief ‘very confident’ fans will be able to attend thanks to COVID-19 vaccine | World News


Fans will be able to attend the Tokyo Olympics next year under plans to vaccinate spectators and athletes upon their arrival in Japan, the head of the organising committee has said.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach has said he is working on the proposed safety measure, which would allow the event to take place despite a surge in coronavirus infections around the world.

Speaking during his first visit to the Japanese capital since he and the then-prime minister Shinzo Abe decided to postpone the 2020 Games back in March, Mr Bach expressed his hopes that attendees and the 11,000 athletes taking part could be vaccinated before they touched down in the country.

Live COVID-19 updates from the UK and around the world

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Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga greets International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach during their meeting in Tokyo

The 2020 Summer Olympics were originally due to begin in July this year, but were postponed until next summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But Mr Bach, who is currently on a two-day visit to Tokyo, is positive a second delay will not be forthcoming.

He fist-bumped Japan’s new premier, Yoshihide Suga, and told Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike they could be confident a vaccine would be available by next summer.

He added: “In order to protect the Japanese people, and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that Olympic participants and visitors will arrive here vaccinated if, by then, a vaccine is available.”

Mr Bach said he was now “very confident” that spectators would be able to attend, with the past week having brought positive news on two vaccine candidates.

Pfizer has announced that its vaccine is 90% effective at protecting people from COVID-19, and one from Moderna is said to be more be even better at 94.5%.

Protesters against Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games hold a rally in front of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building in Tokyo
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Protesters hold a rally in front of a government building in Tokyo

Back in July, a poll by Japanese public broadcaster NHK showed 70% of people thought the Olympics should be postponed further or cancelled.

In contrast, most Japanese firms want the event to go ahead next summer, even though they admit the event’s contribution to the economy would now be limited.

It is widely believed the Olympics will not be able to go ahead without a vaccine – and it could become only the fourth time in modern history that the event is cancelled

Three others were called off due to the two World Wars, in 1916, 1940 and 1944.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool
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Shinzo Abe stood down as Japanese PM earlier this year

Ahead of Mr Bach’s visit, last week Japan reported record new daily virus cases, though it has not suffered the high deaths seen elsewhere.

Japan has reported 119,538 cases and 1,880 COVID-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic.

Mr Bach called next year’s games a “light at the end of the tunnel” after the world’s pandemic battle, and pointed to recent sporting competitions in Japan as proof that events could already take place safely.

Earlier this month, Tokyo successfully hosted an international gymnastics meet at which organisers tested a range of COVID-19 countermeasures.

Mr Bach has also used his visit to award Mr Abe the Olympic Order in gold, the IOC’s highest accolade.

Mr Abe, who stepped down as prime minister earlier this year due to ill health, had made himself all but synonymous with Tokyo 2020 during his premiership, even famously appearing as video game character Mario at the closing ceremony of the Rio Games in 2016.



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Olympics: Bach projects confidence in Tokyo Games as virus cases surge



FILE PHOTO: Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) attends an interview after the decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

November 16, 2020

By Jack Tarrant and Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters) – International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach expressed confidence on Monday that the Tokyo Games will be held successfully next year, even allowing spectators to attend, as the world grapples with a sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

Bach’s two-day visit to Tokyo is likely to bolster Japan’s efforts to stage the Olympics, but will do little to assuage the concerns of a public deeply worried about the spread of the virus.

The IOC president spent the day with the Tokyo organisers discussing how to stage the massive sporting event during an unprecedented pandemic and ensure safety for a gathering of more than 11,000 international athletes.

The visit is Bach’s first to the Japanese capital since he and former prime minister Shinzo Abe decided in March to postpone the 2020 Games to next year.

On Monday, Bach fist-bumped with Japan’s new premier, Yoshihide Suga, and told Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike they could be confident a vaccine would be available by next summer.

The IOC will arrange to ensure vaccination of both participants and visitors before they arrive in Japan, he added.

“In order to protect the Japanese people, and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that … the Olympic participants and visitors will arrive here vaccinated if, by then, a vaccine is available,” he said.

At a news conference later, Bach said he would not make vaccination a requirement for Games participants, however.

News of a potentially successful vaccine from Pfizer Inc has lifted hopes for the staging of the Games, but public opinion in Japan remains mixed.

Nearly 60% of respondents in a November poll by TV Asahi said the event should be further postponed or canceled.

After meeting Koike, Bach approached a handful of protesters who were holding banners and using loudspeakers to press their demand for cancellation of the Olympics.

“Do you want to speak or do you want to shout?” he asked, as security guards stood between him and one protester. But the protesters rebuffed his offer of dialogue, Bach told the news conference.

Last week Japan reported record new daily cases, sparking concerns of a third wave of infections, although it has mostly avoided the high death tolls recorded elsewhere.

Bach called next year’s games a “light at the end of the tunnel” after the world’s pandemic battle, and pointed to recent sporting competitions in Japan as proof that events could already take place safely, saying the IOC was now “very confident” that spectators would be able to attend the Games.

But he told reporters it was not realistic to put a figure on the cost of the postponement until next year’s virus precautions are ascertained.

This month, Tokyo successfully hosted an international gymnastics meet at which organisers tested a range of COVID-19 countermeasures.

During his visit to Tokyo, Bach also awarded Abe the Olympic Order in gold, the IOC’s highest accolade.

When premier, Abe made himself all but synonymous with Tokyo 2020, even famously appearing as video game character Mario at the closing ceremony of the Rio Games in 2016.

Abe played a critical role in Tokyo’s bid to win the Olympics, making the campaign a national priority.

A few years later, a French investigation into doping by Russian athletes revealed evidence of two payments totally $2.3 million by the Tokyo bidding committee to a little-known Singaporea firm, Black Tidings.

France is investigating if that money was used to win the backing of an influential IOC member for Japan to host the 2020 Games.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)

(Additional reporting by Mari Saito, Issei Kato and Sakura Murakami; Editing by Richard Pullin and Clarence Fernandez)





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Olympics: With organsisers on a high, Bach’s Tokyo visit is a reminder of long road ahead



FILE PHOTO: International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach shakes hands with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori looks on during the ‘One Year to Go’ ceremony celebrating one year out from the start of the summer games at Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo, Japan July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

November 13, 2020

By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO (Reuters) – Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics will welcome Thomas Bach next week with a spring in their step, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president is sure to ask demanding questions in private, even if his support remains unwavering in public.

The visit will be Bach’s first to the Japanese capital since he and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in March decided to postpone the Games because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

His arrival comes after Tokyo last week hosted a successful international gymnastics meet where a variety of COVID-19 counter-measures were tested, and with news of a potentially successful vaccine from Pfizer Inc on the horizon.

In a video message broadcast during the gymnastics meet, Bach said the event gave confidence the Olympics can go ahead next year, even if it has to be held with coronavirus restrictions.

Before the postponement decision, Bach praised Tokyo as the “most prepared” Games host city he had experienced and the former fencer is expected to convey a similarly positive message this time around.

However, despite what Bach may say in public during his two-day trip, he will also be pushing Tokyo 2020 organisers to formulate concrete plans for the rearranged Games and looking for further cost-reduction measures.

The two key areas Bach will want to hash out with organisers are whether spectators will be allowed in venues, and how best to safely accommodate over 11,000 athletes arriving in Tokyo from across the world.

“It (the trip) is important because we are now coming to a crucial stage of putting this toolbox together with COVID-19 counter-measures to get the feeling what will be needed next year,” Bach said on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said the Japanese government was planning on allowing athletes into the country without mandating a 14-day quarantine period..

During the visit, which begins on Monday, Bach is expected to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and will award his predecessor Abe with the Olympic Order, the IOC’s highest accolade, for his support of the Games.

Bach will also meet with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, visit the newly-built National Stadium, and hold a news conference alongside Tokyo 2020 organisers.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)





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Brian Goorjian returns as Australian Boomers coach for Tokyo Olympics to 2023 FIBA World Cup


Now Goorjian will hope to have all three along with veteran performers Matthew Dellavedova, Aron Baynes and NBA All-Star Ben Simmons for a run at gold.

Goorjian will need to bring Simmons into the fold as he hasn’t played in recent years but he has spoken positively about competing in Tokyo, while the new coach faces tough decisions on who to name and who to leave out from the team’s deep roster of players.

“When I finished with the Boomers [after Beijing] I was just excited to watch them develop,” Goorjian said on Friday.

“You see how great they have done and now I get this opportunity to get back with a lot of the guys I started with on that Beijing team.

“There is that small window you get in sport where you have an opportunity to do something great.

“Andrej Lemanis and BA did a tremendous job to get this team where it is right now. For me to come back to that group when they are in their greatest moment and have the greatest opportunity is really special.”

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There is still so much uncertainty about the Tokyo Olympics and doubts also remain about whether all NBA players will be fit and available due to the late start to this upcoming season.

The NBA season will begin on December 23 (AEDT) and play a 72-game season plus playoffs, so players should be available for Tokyo but they will have little time to adjust to fit into Goorjian’s plans.

The likes of Thon Maker, Jock Landale, Josh Green, Ryan Broekhoff, Dante Exum, Will Magnay and Jonah Bolden are on the fringe of the NBA, or face uncertainty around their roles next season.

NBL and European stars like Chris Goulding, Mitch Creek, Nick Kay, Nathan Sobey, Cameron Gliddon, Xavier Cooks and Brock Motum will all be pushing for a roster spot too.

But Goorjian has kept a close watch on the international game and marvelled at how the young talents he took to Beijing have become one of the most respected rosters in the world.

He has no doubt they will be motivated to take their chance in Tokyo.

“There is an opportunity to get gold and there is a fine line – a free throw is the difference between that happening and that not happening,” Goorjian said.

“It’s really just continuing and trying to get a little bit better at everything they did.

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“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the table has been set. The pieces are in place. The guys have a tremendous camaraderie and they have a cause. It’s something they want to get done.

“Usually there is a process to go all the way, they have been hit a couple of times right at that finish line so I think they are ready, physically and mentally, to take the next step.”

Meanwhile, the Sydney Kings are on the hunt for a new coach after confirming Will Weaver was leaving the team to take up an opportunity as a lead assistant in the NBA.

According to the New York Times, Weaver – who guided the Kings to top spot on the NBL ladder with the league’s top defensive record – is set to join the Houston Rockets, having missed out on the top job at the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this week.

In a statement, the Kings said they were “thrilled” for Weaver and his family, but will have to move quickly to install a replacement ahead of the start of the new season in January.

“Further updates will be provided in the coming week, and until such time the club will not be making any further comment,” the statement read.

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Tokyo Olympics athletes won’t have to isolate for 14 days on arrival: organisers



November 12, 2020

TOKYO (Reuters) – Athletes arriving in Tokyo for next year’s Olympic Games, postponed from 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, will be exempt from the 14-day isolation period Japan has imposed on anyone arriving from overseas to help stop the virus spreading.

Olympic organisers said on Thursday details still need to be worked out, but measures for athletes are likely to include coronavirus testing within 72 hours before arriving in Japan. But they warned decisions on spectators from overseas have yet to be made, saying a 14-day quarantine was “impossible”.

“Athletes, coaches and Games officials that are eligible for the Tokyo Games will be allowed to enter the country, provided significant measures are made before they get to Japan,” Tokyo 2020 Chief Executive Officer Toshiro Muto told a news conference.

Muto was speaking after a meeting between officials from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the national government and Tokyo 2020 organisers on infection prevention procedures during the Games.

He said a decision on foreign spectators would be made next year, depending on pandemic developments.

“By next spring, we will be coming up with a plan for spectators, including non-Japanese spectators,” he said. “It is impossible to set a 14-day quarantine period for foreign spectators, so tests before and upon arrival are needed.”

Japan has held several recent test events, including a four-nation gymnastics meet last weekend, in which spectators have been admitted, but these were limited to residents of Japan.

International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach is due in Japan for a three-day visit next week, at which Muto said he expected details of coronavirus counter-measures would be ironed out.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Writing by Sakura Murakami and Elaine Lies; Editing by Kim Coghill and Kenneth Maxwell)



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Tokyo Olympics faces problems over achieving a fair qualification system for athletes, says IOC


The coronavirus pandemic has made achieving fair athlete qualification for the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games extremely difficult, International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) president Thomas Bach says.

At a news conference following the IOC’s monthly executive board meeting, Bach said 57 per cent of places have already been allocated, but that there were still many athletes around the world hoping to qualify for the remaining 43 per cent.

“For the remaining 43 per cent we still have to ensure a fair qualification system,” he said.

This is becoming more difficult for many sports, with the COVID-19 pandemic out of control in numerous countries and severe travel restrictions in many others.

Overnight, the World Wrestling Championships scheduled to take place in Serbia next month was cancelled.

Governing body, United World Wrestling (UWW), had set a target of at least eight of the top ten nations from last year’s event plus 70 per cent of athletes required to attend for the event to go ahead.

Those numbers could not be guaranteed.

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“The problem that the international federations are facing, and with them we are facing, that at this moment you would hardly find a place on this planet where you would have access for all the athletes from all the countries who want to participate,” Bach said.

“The international federations are looking very much into next spring (Australia’s autumn), [and] there are also different scenarios under consideration whether some of the so-called ‘world qualifications’ will have to be turned into more continental or regional qualifications.

“Or even in one of the other sports or disciplines the world ranking or other rankings must be used to have, and ensure, a fair qualification system — this has to happen from federation to federation.

“I can only tell you that all the international federations are working very hard on this and that they are really fully committed to ensure a fair qualification system for all their athletes.”

The IOC has not set a target for the number of nations or athletes who must attend but remain confident most of the 206 National Olympic Committees will send teams to Tokyo.

IOC chief Thomas Bach says Olympic officials respect athletes’ decisions on whether to participate during the COVID-19 pandemic.(Reuters: Denis Balibouse, file photo)

“Our clear commitment is to make the participation possible for all the 206 National Olympic Committees and the IOC Refugee Team,” Bach said.

“If one athlete or the other does not want to participate for any reason, this is the individual decision of any athlete. We are respecting the athletes are free and must be free in their decisions.

“Given the very recent developments with regard to rapid testing and the vaccination, we are very confident we can offer a safe environment for all the athletes from all the National Olympic Committees and the IOC Refugee team.”

A one-day gymnastics event in Tokyo over the past weekend — featuring teams from Russia, China, the USA, as well as the host nation — provided a glimpse of hope as Olympic organisers prepare for a slow build towards next year’s Games.

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The pandemic has created financial issues for many National Olympic Committees.

The IOC has announced expansion of its Olympic Solidarity Fund by 16 per cent overall, and an increase of 25 five per cent for direct athlete support programs, taking the total to US$590 million ($811.1million).

Bach warned athletes would be required to be flexible as they prepare for the Tokyo Games scheduled to run from 23 July to 8 August 2021.

“They are not in a situation like you would (normally) be nine months before the Olympic Games where you can plan your period of training and competition, and you can determine when you want to peak,” he said.

“All this, unfortunately, is not easy but it’s the same challenge for all the athletes of the world.

“We could also see in the meeting with the Athletes’ Commission today that the athletes are really understanding this situation — of course they are not extremely happy about this but they accept it and they know that they need to have this flexibility in order to ensure a fair qualification and in order to ensure the safe organisation of the Games.”

Next week the IOC President will fly to Tokyo to meet with Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, and Olympic organisers.

When asked whether cancellation of the Games would be discussed Mr Bach replied: “No.” 



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Road to Tokyo Olympics resumes with trials against A-League teams


Past deeds will count for nothing as national coach Graham Arnold goes into overdrive to lead the Olyroos to a medal at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

After months of inactivity due to COVID-19, the Olyroos’ road to Tokyo resumes on Thursday night with a match against A-League champions Sydney FC at Jubilee Stadium.

It’s part of a camp that also includes a game against A-League newcomers Macarthur FC at the same venue on Tuesday.

The 26-man squad that Arnold has assembled is made up almost entirely of A-League players, the exception being goalkeeper Nicholas Sorras, who plays for NPL NSW club Sydney Olympic.

Arnold said another 10 overseas-based players were also on his Olympics radar as well as Perth Glory striker Nick D’Agostino and Brisbane Roar attacker Dylan Wenzel-Halls, who aren’t in camp for fitness and border restrictions reasons respectively.

And while D’Agostino was a hero of the Australian under-23 team’s qualifying campaign in Thailand in January, Arnold said the recent inactivity and the Olympics being delayed until July next year meant it was a now a “fresh start’ for everyone vying for spots in a 18-man Games squad that could also include three over-age players.

“I actually believe that we’re going to be better prepared for the postponed Olympics more than what we would have been if the Olympics had gone ahead (this year),” Arnold said.

“We seem to have more depth now, we have more players coming through, we’ve obviously got players overseas who can’t be here at the moment … overall you’ve got a good balance of players.

“Thailand happened 11 months ago, Thailand was a completely different group of players – it is a fresh start for everybody.

“What everyone does today moving forward will be about selection for the Tokyo Olympics.

“It’s not like I’ll be paying players back and saying ‘thank you for what you did in Thailand or what you did earlier on in the piece’.

“It’s now a fresh start. There’s been a nine-month break, players need to work hard at their clubs, they need to play at their clubs, they need to perform and perform well … we’re only allowed to pick 18 players for the Olympics and three of them possibly can be over-age.

“They’ve only got four more opportunities to impress before the Olympics as a group.”

Arnold hasn’t ruled out not selecting any over-age players in his Tokyo squad.

“You to have get clubs’ blessing for the release of over-age players. It’s not a mandatory rule in place that the clubs have to release them, so I prefer to take 18 under-23 players and go to the Olympics … and be the first football team in Australian history to win a medal at the Olympics,” he said.

“It’s players that we have, that we need to get together, and then it’s about blending the whole team together and moving forward.”



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Senkaku Islands: Japan and China both claim these islands as their own. Now the US is showing Tokyo how it can help defend them


Speaking aboard a Japanese warship Monday, Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of US Forces Japan, said the exercises would demonstrate the ability of the US-Japan alliance “to deliver combat troops to defend the Senkakus or respond to other crises or contingencies.”

Both Tokyo and Beijing claim the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyus in China, as their own, but Japan has administered them since 1972.

Tensions over the uninhabited rocky chain, 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, have simmered for years, and with claims over them dating back centuries, neither Japan nor China is likely to back down.

Chinese vessels have been spending record amounts of time in the waters around the islands this year, drawing condemnation from Tokyo.

The US-Japan exercises, named Keen Sword 21, have been held biennially for more than 30 years. This year’s exercises run through to November 5.

The US commitment

The prospect of any Japan-China military face-off over disputed islands holds even more gravity because the US-Japan mutual defense treaty obligates Washington to defend the islands as if they are American territory.

The US has been steadfast in that commitment, as echoed in Schneider’s comments on Monday.

In July, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo included the Senkakus dispute as one of the areas in the Indo-Pacific where he said China was “instigating territorial disputes” as part of a pattern of “bullying” its Asian neighbors.

So the huge US and Japanese military presence in the Pacific this week adds visual heft to statements that Tokyo and Washington stand united over the Senkakus and beyond.

The fleets include some 9,000 US troops, a US aircraft carrier strike group, more than 100 US military aircraft, more than 37,000 Japanese troops, a flotilla of 20 Japan Maritime Self Defense Force warships, 100 Japanese military planes, plus a frigate from Canada — all focused on landing large forces on islands around Okinawa, 250 miles (400 kilometers) to the east of the Senkakus.

Since becoming Japanese Prime Minister in September, Yoshihide Suga has been pushing Japan’s support for a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” He’s overseen Japanese naval deployments to the South China Sea — which Beijing claims almost in its entirety — visiting both Vietnam and Indonesia to strengthen Japanese ties with those countries that also have claims in the vast waterway. Suga has also reaffirmed defense ties with India and Australia, which along with the US and Japan are known as “the Quad.”

While not a formal military alliance like NATO, the Quad is seen by some as a potential counterweight to growing Chinese influence and alleged aggression in Asia-Pacific. The collation has been denounced by Beijing as an anti-China bloc.

Naval forces from all four Quad nations will participate in the large-scale Malabar military exercises in the Indian Ocean next month.

But first China’s eye will likely be focused on what’s happening with Keen Sword.

A statement from the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii said the US and Japanese forces “will train in a comprehensive scenario designed to exercise the critical capabilities required to support the defense of Japan and respond to a crisis or contingency in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The troops “will exercise a wide range of warfighting capabilities and demonstrate the inherent flexibility and capability of the US and Japanese militaries,” the Pacific Fleet statement said.

Photos released by the US Navy on Monday showed 16 US, Japanese and Canadian warships sailing in formation in the Philippine Sea as Keen Sword began.

‘Deterrent value’

The large-scale exercises have strong “deterrent value” toward China, said Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.

“They show (island) seizure is not going to be cheap or unchallenged,” he said.

Corey Wallace, an assistant professor focusing on Japanese foreign policy at Kanagawa University, said the exercises are displaying new levels of interoperability between the Japanese and US militaries.

The US will land MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft on Japan’s largest warship, the JS Kaga, said Wallace. And it could be just a glimpse of what the two militaries might do in the future with their stealth fighters.

“This speaks to the intensifying nature of the amphibious exercises but also the future possibilities for further cross-decking, perhaps first with US F-35Bs on Japanese ships, and later, possibly Japanese F-35Bs on American amphibious vessels,” Wallace said. “Demonstrating interoperability between the two forces in realistic scenarios is as important, if not more so, than displaying any shiny new hardware.”

Meanwhile, with much less fanfare, China’s People’s Liberation Army is in the midst of two sets of military exercises in the Bohai Sea and Yellow Sea, according to a posting on the PLA’s official English language website. The nature of the exercises was not disclosed.

Those exercises, scheduled to end on November 10 and October 30, respectively, are just the latest in a busy few months for China’s military, which has recently had as many as five exercises running simultaneously.

CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.



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