Olympics in less than 2 weeks; no Djokovic at Australian Open: NPR




And now for sports.


SIMON: Networks to keep certain hosts and journalists at home for the Beijing Olympics. New names shine at the Australian Open – and at the barbecue tomorrow – Kansas City against Buffalo.

Joining us is Tom Goldman of NPR. Tom, thank you very much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Oh, thank you, Scott.

SIMON: The Winter Olympics are less than two weeks away. NBC and ESPN say some key on-air talent will stay in their Connecticut studios and not go to China. Is it because of COVID concerns or concerns that if their hosts say anything about state surveillance or detention centers that China might not let them out?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, the reason given is COVID. China has a very strict zero COVID policy that limits travel and access. And if you test positive, there could be a long period of isolation. The networks did not mention concerns about free speech. But those concerns are there, Scott. A current US State Department advisory on travel to China includes warnings for Western journalists. This week, an official with the Beijing organizing committee warned that athletes could be punished for any expression not in keeping with the Olympic spirit. Now human rights activists hope athletes will use their platform at the Games to speak out. I was on a Zoom call this week where some prominent athletes – I’m sorry – activists advised athletes not to speak out in China as their safety cannot be guaranteed.

SIMON: We note that you will be there for NPR. And I don’t mean to embarrass you, but do you have any concerns about not being able to honestly cover what’s going on?

GOLDMAN: Yes, of course. You know, and it seems insufficient to go to China and just report on the glory of the sport, although many will be glorious, and the athletes are to be congratulated. And it’s really a shame that the International Olympic Committee put them in an uncomfortable position by awarding the Games to another country with an authoritarian regime. Athletes have no say in where the Olympics take place. But you wonder how far you can go when it comes to reporting there. People with much more experience in China than I think the bar will be high enough for action against Olympic journalists. I mean, the government knows that several hundred foreign journalists are coming into the country loaded with pointed questions. We’ll just have to see what the tolerance level is.

SIMON: What events and which athletes – speaking of sports – are you looking forward to covering?

GOLDMAN: So – so unfair to limit yourself to a few – but the great American male figure skater Nathan Chen – can overcome a disappointing performance at the last Olympics and prevent Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu from winning his third Olympic gold medal consecutive? I look forward to downhill skiing, especially downhill, with its raw speed. I am in awe of athletes who do this. And on the other hand, I like the raw endurance of cross-country skiing and biathlon. We will see if Norway continues its dominance in Nordic skiing. These are just a few. And of course, I left out curling. I mean, it’s still a thrill.

SIMON: Oh, my God. How could you leave out curling?

GOLDMAN: I know.

SIMON: You and me…

GOLDMAN: Forgive me.

SIMON: …Exalted…

GOLDMAN: Forgive me.

SIMON: …on curling. Look, I’m not going to ask another question about Novak Djokovic. There was good tennis even without him at the Australian Open. And I’m thinking of the daughter of Russian immigrants from New Jersey, Amanda Anisimova, who was just terrific yesterday.

GOLDMAN: Yes, she beat Naomi Osaka, four-time Grand Slam winner and defending Australian Open champion – another indication of how topsy-turvy and thrilling women’s tennis is. Four Americans – Four Americans made it to the final 16, including Jessica Pegula. And I love his tennis-NFL connection. His parents own the Buffalo Bills. She wore Bills colors while playing in Australia and wrote on an on-court camera after winning, Bills, you’re next, a reference to tomorrow’s Buffalo-Kansas City NFL playoff game. Pegula and the Bills are the underdogs in their next contests. We’ll see if they can both pull off the upsets.

SIMON: But I mean, what are you planning? The Chiefs are favored by a hair – two points, if I’m not mistaken.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Yeah. It is considered the best of four games this weekend – a battle between two great quarterbacks – Josh Allen of the Bills, Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs. Although whenever you talk about a great quarterback shootout, the game invariably relies on executing offense and defense…

SIMON: Yes, yes.

GOLDMAN: …which could very well be the case in this one. Kansas City is home. Home pitch matters. I really like them with that hair. But we’ll see, Scott. That’s why they play the games.

SIMON: You mean time will tell, right?

GOLDMAN: (Laughs) Yeah, that too.

SIMON: Oh my God, Tom. I’m glad you’re at work. NPR’s Tom Goldman – thank you very much. See you soon, my friend.

GOLDMAN: You’re welcome. Thank you.


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