BEIJING, August 6, 2008 – It may be two days until the official opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics but Wednesday saw the first action of this year’s Games, with the women’s football tournament kicking-off the action.,
Far away from the Chinese capital in Shenyang, northeast China, Germany and Brazil played out a goalless draw in the opening match of the competition.
The honour of scoring the first goal fell to Canada’s Candace Chapman whose 27th minute effort sent her side on the way to a 2-1 win over Argentina in Tianjin, just east of Beijing.
In the day’s other early kick-off match Japan and New Zealand played out a 2-2 draw.
However, a shadow was cast over the men’s football tournament, which starts on Thursday.
Argentina superstar Lionel Messi is set to be barred from competing in Beijing for the reigning Olympic champions after the Court of Arbitrattion for Sport ruled that clubs were not obliged to release their players as the tournament was not listed in world football governing body FIFA’s calendar.
Barcelona, Werder Bremen and Schalke had all been fighting to keep their young stars — Messi and Brazil’s Diego and Rafinha — out of the Games, which clash with their own seasons, after appealing an earlier FIFA ruling.
Someone who will be competing at the Olympics is Dirk Nowitzki, one of the stars of America’s professional NBA basketball league, who was named Wednesday as the flag-bearer for his native Germany.
Nowitzki, the first basketball player to carry the German flag at a Games, said: "Competing at an Olympic Games is something that has motivated me since the age of 10 and 11.
"On Friday, I will experience something astonishing."
Elsewhere, US competitors found themselves caught up in controversy on the day an advance copy of a speech to be given by President George W. Bush talked of America’s "deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights" in China.
Four United States cyclists — Mike Friedman, Bobby Lee, Sarah Hammer and Jennie Reed — who wore masks because of pollution fears when arriving in Beijing, a touchy subject for the Chinese authorities, apologised Wednesday.
Officials once more insisted air quality was safe for athletes as Beijing remained shrouded in smog.
"The conditions are not unfavourable at the moment," said Beijing Olympic Organising Committee (BOCOG) spokesman Sun Weide.
Meanwhile American swimmer Amanda Beard staged the first protest by an athlete at the Games, unveiling a nude photograph of herself.
However, this for an advert in a campaign against animal cruelty run by pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
"The Olympics are a great forum for me to use to get my message out," Beard said. "I’ve done Playboy. I’m comfortable with my body."
Another woman in the headlines was Greek sprinter Ekaterina Thanou.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is examining her right to run in Beijing after she failed to show for a dope test four years ago in Athens
However, her lawyer said she would not attend an IOC hearing here Thursday.
Nikos Kollias accused the IOC of appearing to have a "personal vendetta" against Thanou as several other athletes who actually tested positive and served bans will be competing in Beijing.
There was more welcome news for the IOC on the female front as Sweden’s Gunilla Lindberg became the first woman to preside over an IOC session when the Games governing body’s Belgian president, Jacques Rogge, left early for his country’s flag-raising ceremony.
"It has been 114 years that a woman has had to wait to chair an IOC session and it’s about time," Rogge said.