A German club's supporters are planning to replace real-life fans with plastic ones when the Bundesliga resumes — and raise some money for a child's medical treatment in the process.
Borussia Mönchengladbach supporters have come up with a novel way to support their team, even though they probably won't be allowed to attend games for a while longer because of the coronavirus outbreak.
One Gladbach supporters group is giving members the chance to create life-size plastic figures that will be placed in the stadium in their places when — and if — the Bundesliga is able to complete its season.
"We don't have any concrete expectations but it should be a couple of thousand fans anyway," the FPMG club's liaison officer Thomas "Tower" Weinmann told The Associated Press.
For 19 euros ($21) each supporter can have their portrait taken and reprinted on hard weatherproof plastic cutouts. From each sale, 2 euros ($2.20) will go toward a fundraising campaign for a boy named Ben to receive treatment for spinal muscular atrophy. Another portion of the money raised will go toward supporting seven workers in the fan club whose jobs are under threat with no soccer being played.
"The rest is pure manufacturing and processing costs. With this we're also helping two small companies in Mönchengladbach that had to close their shops," FPMG says on its website. "So no profit will be made, and when the 'war is won' and we can all go back to the stadium, everyone can take their portrait in plastic as a souvenir of a memorable time."
The countdown clocks have been reset and are ticking again for the Tokyo Olympics.
The model outside Tokyo Station, and others across the Japanese capital, were switched on almost immediately after organizers announced the new dates — July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.
The clocks read 479 days to go. That seems a long way away, but also small and insignificant compared with the worldwide fallout from the coronavirus.
Then again, it's not much time to reassemble the first Olympics to be postponed since the modern games began 124 years ago; not for 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,400 Paralympic athletes, and not for sponsors, broadcasters, the fans that have already bought tickets and Japanese organizers and taxpayers who have spent billions and will have to come up with billions more to pay for the setback.
"I believe that these Olympics are going to have great historical significance," Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo organizing committee, said after confirming the new dates.
Mori, an 82-year-old former Japanese prime minister, also recalled there's no guarantee that the coronavirus pandemic will be under control a year from now. That includes the new dates for the Paralympics now set for Aug. 24-Sept. 5.
"This is a prayer that we have and I do believe that someone is going to listen to our prayers," Mori said.
After cursory talk about an Olympics in the spring, the new summer dates overlap perfectly with the same time slot that was picked for 2020. Organizers are hoping to overlay the old plans with new plans, keeping venues in place, securing thousands of rooms in the Athletes Village, deploying the same volunteers, and letting people who bought tickets keep them.
The summer date also avoids conflicts with the crowded North American and European sports schedules. But summer in Tokyo also means grappling with intense heat and humidity, the major worry for games organizers before the pandemic.
"Obviously in the summer there might be typhoons and the heat problems," Mori said. "However, this situation is the same. We always had those problems so we will be prepared for those issues."
Though the international sports federations went along with the new dates, some of them, like the International Triathlon Union, preferred the cooler spring during Japan's cherry blossom season. But that was overridden by the easiest route to lining up venues.
"We are having discussions with all the venues at the moment," said Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee. "At this point we don't have a final decision. However, some problems have already become apparent."
Muto said organizers haven't yet heard from any venues saying the rescheduled Olympic events can't be staged there next year.
"There are a lot of venues that can't make a decision yet. So we have to negotiate with them," he said. "If we have to make a change to the venues, then we might have to change the competition schedule as well.
"I personally don't think there are going to be many major changes to the (competition) schedule," he added. "But our discussions haven't gone that far yet."
David Wallechinsky, the president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said the Olympics in 2021 — they will still be officially called the 2020 Olympics — could become a symbol for a world pulling together after the pandemic.
"I see this postponement as more of an opportunity for the Olympic Movement, rather than a setback," he said in an email to The Associated Press.
He said an outright cancellation, rather than postponement, probably was not feasible.
"From a financial point of view, cancellation was not a viable option," he said. "The repercussions would have been complex and widespread."
The Olympic flame, which arrived from Greece on March 12, will stay temporarily in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima. The Olympics were supposed to focus on that area's struggles from the earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in 2011. But the flame's symbolism next year is likely to shift to recovery from the pandemic.
Mori and Muto have both acknowledged rejiggering the Olympics will incur "massive costs." Estimates range between an added $2 billion-$6 billion. And Japanese taxpayers will pick up most of the bills, as they have for most of the preparations so far.
Muto promised transparency in calculating the costs, and testing times deciding how they are divided up.
"There will be costs and we will need to consider them one by one," Muto said. "I think that will be the tougher process."
Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics. However, an audit bureau of the Japanese government says the costs are already twice that much. When it won the bid in 2013, Tokyo said the Olympics could cost $7.3 billion.
All of the spending is public money except for $5.6 billion from a privately funded operating budget. About $3.3 billion in that budget has been raised from local sponsorship deals driven by Dentsu Inc., Japan's giant advertising and public relations company.
That sponsorship amount is almost three times more than any previous Olympics.
"The current sponsor contracts will expire this year," Muto said. "And since the games will be extended until next year, we would like to ask them for extensions. I'm not hearing they have any specific objections to this. And whether we would like to ask them for more contributions — nothing has been decided."
The Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee is contributing $1.3 billion to the Tokyo Olympics, according to organizing committee documents. The IOC's contribution goes into the operating budget.
The IOC had income in the latest four-year Olympic cycle of $5.7 billion, and 73% was from selling broadcast rights with 18% from long-term sponsor revenue. American broadcaster NBC makes up half of the IOC's broadcast revenue and pays more than $1 billion for the rights to each Olympics.
The IOC also has almost $2 billion in reserve funds and insurance to cover emergency situations.
"NBC, in particular, has a lot to say," Wallechinsky said. "That's why the games are scheduled for the summer, which is not ideal for athletes competing in outdoors sports. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics took place in October, when the weather was more favorable."
The Olympics planned for 1940 in Tokyo were canceled because of Japan's war with China. The Olympics in 1916 and 1944 were also canceled because of wars. And these Olympics have had a bumpy time, which included the resignation last year of the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee amid a bribery scanda l.
"Even the 1940 Tokyo Olympics were planned for September-October," Wallechinsky said. "For 2020-2021, you see the power of television."
The NCAA will permit Division I spring-sport athletes — such as baseball, softball and lacrosse players — who had their seasons shortened by the coronavirus pandemic to have an additional year of eligibility.
The NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to give spring-sport athletes regardless of their year in school a way to get back the season they lost, but it did not guarantee financial aid to the current crop of seniors if they return to play next year.
Winter sports, such as basketball and hockey, were not included in the decision because many athletes in those sports had completed all or most of their regular seasons, the council decided.
The council is made up of college sports administrators representing all 32 D-I conferences, plus two members of the student-athlete advisory committee. Voting is weighted to give the Power Five conferences more say. Chairwoman Grace Calhoun, who is Penn's athletic director, declined to reveal the final vote.
"At the end we really did coalesce around all of the decisions that we made today," Calhoun said. "They were strongly supported."
How much scholarship money will be made available to each athlete whose college career would have ended this spring will be determined by the athlete's school. The amount could range from nothing to as much the athlete received had been receiving.
The added scholarships could cost a school hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it would usually spend on spring-sport athletes. The extra expenses come at a time when athletic departments could be facing cutbacks. The pandemic forced the cancellation of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which cut the association's distribution to members by $375 million this year.
"We had long discussions around the fact that this does not avoid substantially difficult circumstances, but what we felt was important was to localize that decision-making and to ensure that we were as permissive as possible," Calhoun said. "At the end of the day, each institution is going to have to figure out what it can do."
Schools will be able to use the NCAA's Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for students who take advantage of the additional eligibility in 2020-21.
Roster and scholarship limits for teams will be adjusted next season to fit returning seniors and incoming freshman.
Katie Hoeg, an All-American lacrosse player from North Carolina, said she has a teaching and coaching job lined up after she graduates this spring, but now plans to return for another season as a graduate student.
"I'm choosing my passion," she said. "I can't imagine ending my lacrosse career the way this season is going. I was pretty hopeful this would be a possibility. I'm really excited this decision has been made."
Nebraska-Omaha softball player Hailey Bartz was planning to graduate in December and move on from school. Now she's not so sure.
"I've been speaking with my family about it and trying to figure out pros and cons. Do I want to take advantage of that year? Do I not?" Bartz said. "Some of my teammates have their schooling set up, full-time jobs. You have your life planned out and then this kind of pushes everything back another year. At the same time it's really hard to pass up because it's a game of love."
NCAA Division I rules allow athletes to have four seasons of competition in a five-year period. Schools will be allowed to apply for waivers to restore one of those seasons for any athlete who competed while eligible in the spring season shortened by COVID-19 in 2020. After the 2021 spring season, scholarship and roster limits will apply to athletes granted the waiver.
"This has a four- or five-year effect depending on how you want to count it," said Marquette athletic director Bill Scholl, whose school fields track, lacrosse, tennis and golf teams in the spring. "So the roster management piece is just something our coaches, we're going to have to figure out and work our way through.''
Calhoun said the council did not consider the possibility of the fall sports season, including football, being interrupted. Football generates billions of dollars, especially for Power Five conferences. Losing that would be potentially devastating to schools that play major college football.
"There was an acknowledgment that we don't know the future and if other seasons are canceled other things happen in the future we'll have to take that up with the individual merits of the case at time," Calhoun said.
Karim Benzema made an unflattering comment about fellow forward Olivier Giroud, comparing himself to a Formula One car and his former France teammate to a go-kart.
Benzema has nearly 250 goals for Real Madrid and won four Champions League titles. He was holding a live chat session on his Instagram account on Sunday when someone asked him if Giroud, who has more than 200 goals in his entire professional career and won four FA Cups, was better than him.
"I'm going to respond to you and all of those who are watching, it won't take long. It won't take long, guys," Benzema replied. "You can't confuse F1 with karting ... and I'm being kind."
Benzema added: "I'm the F1. I'm talking in footballing terms." He conceded Giroud's work ethic helps France's other regular forwards Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé.
Benzema stood by his comments in another video posted on his Instagram account on Monday.
"I told the truth, quite simply. But people didn't retain when I spoke about what he brings to the France team," the 32-year-old Benzema said. "People just remembered when I said I was F1 and he was karting. That's what I think."
Justifying himself further, Benzema placed himself below Cristiano Ronaldo — his former Madrid teammate who is at Juventus — in the same way.
"R9 (Ronaldo wore the No. 9 jersey in his first season with Madrid) is Formula One and I am karting," Benzema said. "That's the way it is."
Several years ago, Benzema lost his place in the France side in the wake of his alleged involvement in an extortion scam over a sex tape involving then-France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
He has not played for Les Bleus since scoring twice in a 4-0 home win against Armenia in October 2015, taking his tally to 27 goals in 81 internationals. He lined up alongside Valbuena in that match.
After Benzema was dropped by Didier Deschamps, Giroud settled into the France side as its center forward. He helped France reach the European Championship final in 2016 and to win the World Cup in 2018, although he received some criticism for not scoring in that competition.
The 33-year-old Giroud needs two goals to tie Michel Platini on France's scoring list with 41, with only Thierry Henry ahead of them on 51.
At club level, Benzema's achievements tower over Giroud's modest success with Montpellier in France, and then Arsenal and Chelsea in England.
Benzema has won six league titles and three national cups with Lyon and Madrid, and four Club World Cups on the back of Madrid's Champions League victories.
He has netted 332 goals in 669 games, and his 64 Champions League goals are fourth all-time behind Raúl González, Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.
Giroud's club tally is 217 in 540. He won one league title with Montpellier, four FA Cups and the Europa League with Chelsea in 2019, finishing as the latter competition's leading scorer.
The hard-working Giroud has a moderately good English Premier League return of 80 goals in 229 games, but has always been well appreciated by fans for his team play.
The Tokyo Olympics will open next year in the same time slot scheduled for this year's games.
Tokyo organizers said Monday the opening ceremony will take place on July 23, 2021 — almost exactly one year after the games were due to start.
"The schedule for the games is key to preparing for the games," Tokyo organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said. "This will only accelerate our progress."
Last week, the IOC and Japanese organizers postponed the Olympics until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year's games were scheduled to open on July 24 and close on Aug. 9. But the near exact one-year delay will see the rescheduled closing ceremony on Aug. 8.
There had been talk of switching the Olympics to spring, a move that would coincide with the blooming of Japan's famous cherry blossoms. But it would also clash with European soccer and North American sports leagues.
Mori said a spring Olympics was considered but holding the games later gives more space to complete the many qualifying events that have been postponed by the virus outbreak.
"We wanted to have more room for the athletes to qualify," Mori said.
After holding out for weeks, local organizers and the IOC last week postponed the Tokyo Games under pressure from athletes, national Olympic bodies and sports federations. It's the first postponement in Olympic history, though there were several cancellations during wartime.
The Paralympics were rescheduled to Aug. 24-Sept. 5.
The new Olympic dates would conflict with the scheduled world championships in track and swimming, but those events are now expected to also be pushed back.
"The IOC has had close discussions with the relevant international federations," organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said. "I believe the IFs have accepted the games being held in the summer."
Muto said the decision was made Monday and the IOC said it was supported by all the international sports federations and was based on three main considerations: to protect the health of athletes, to safeguard the interests of the athletes and Olympic sport, and the international sports calendar.
"These new dates give the health authorities and all involved in the organisation of the Games the maximum time to deal with the constantly changing landscape and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," the IOC said. "The new dates ... also have the added benefit that any disruption that the postponement will cause to the international sports calendar can be kept to a minimum, in the interests of the athletes and the IFs."
Both Mori and Muto have said the cost of rescheduling the Olympics will be "massive" — local reports estimate billions of dollars — with most of the expenses borne by Japanese taxpayers.
Muto promised transparency in calculating the costs, and testing times deciding how they are divided up.
"Since it (the Olympics) were scheduled for this summer, all the venues had given up hosting any other events during this time, so how do we approach that?" Muto asked. "In addition, there will need to be guarantees when we book the new dates, and there is a possibility this will incur rent payments. So there will be costs incurred and we will need to consider them one by one. I think that will be the tougher process."
Katsuhiro Miyamoto, an emeritus professor of sports economics at Kansai University, puts the costs as high as $4 billion. That would cover the price of maintaining stadiums, refitting them, paying rentals, penalties and other expenses.
Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics. However, an audit bureau of the Japanese government says the costs are twice that much. All of the spending is public money except $5.6 billion from a privately funded operating budget.
The Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee is contributing $1.3 billion, according to organizing committee documents. The IOC's contribution goes into the operating budget.
IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly called the Tokyo Olympics the best prepared in history. However, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso also termed them "cursed." Aso competed in shooting in the 1976 Olympics, and was born in 1940.
The Olympics planned for 1940 in Tokyo were canceled because of Japan's war with China.
The run-up to the Olympics also saw IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda, who also headed the Japanese Olympic Committee, forced to resign last year amid a bribery scandal.