LONDON — A couple of weeks ago, as the players who will represent Wales in this summer’s European soccer championships started to report for duty, their coaching staff instituted an unwritten rule: Try, if at all possible, not to mention the F word.
It is not that the word is expressly forbidden; more discouraged. “We don’t want it to be a factor going in,” said Tony Strudwick, the team’s head of performance. “We haven’t used the term. We are not talking about fatigue.”
Discussing it in public might look like making excuses. Talking about it in private might sow doubt in the players. That does not mean, of course, that Strudwick and his colleagues — and every other top team in the world facing a championship-filled summer — are not thinking about it almost constantly.
Fatigue is always a factor in a major tournament. The European Championship and the Copa América and the World Cup arrive at the tail end of long and arduous club campaigns. They are contested by the most successful players, the ones employed by the finest club teams, who are rarely afforded more than a couple of weeks off before reporting for international duty.
But rarely has the shadow of exhaustion hung so low over a tournament as it does this summer, which arrives in a calendar compacted and condensed by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. In most countries, what is ordinarily a 10-month season was this year crammed into only a little more than eight.
Many of the players involved in the Euros — and the concurrent Copa América, the South American championship — have effectively been playing nonstop since last June. Some are starting to feel it. Marcos Llorente, the hard-running Spain midfielder, confessed earlier this month that, in his final few games of the season with Atlético Madrid, he came off the field unable to run any further. “The brain wanted more, but the body said no,” he said.
Didier Deschamps, coach of France, the world champion, was warning three months ago that his star-studded squad — a favorite to win the European title — was vulnerable to both physical and mental fatigue. His priority, he said upon gathering his team together late last month, was to ensure that there was enough “gas in the engine” to survive a schedule that — if all goes according to his plan — will encompass seven games in 30 days.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, has admitted that he has to be careful not to “break any of these players.” Roberto Martínez, the coach of Belgium, the world’s top-ranked team, suggested after his side was held to a draw by Greece in a tuneup game that his players were struggling to rediscover the “competitive intensity” they would require to fulfill their ambitions in the tournament.
And while Strudwick and his Wales colleagues might not be talking about it, fatigue and its threat are laced into the very fabric of their planning. They have designed their training programs to take it into account. They have scheduled more down time to prevent it. Any players deemed to be pushing too close to their limits will find their training regimens monitored, their workloads reduced.
They and the other coaches all know that, more than ever, the outcome of Euro 2020 may not depend on the strategic or the stylistic, the tactical or the technical. It may, instead, hinge on the physical, what Strudwick called the battle of “freshness versus fatigue.” This is a tournament for the last team standing.
The explanation for that is obvious. The players called up by the 24 nations who will contest the postponed tournament have not, according to data from Twenty First Group, a soccer analytics consultancy, spent more time on the field over the last season on average than they might have done in ordinary circumstances.
But they all have played more games in a shorter space of time — Twenty First Group’s study showed that some will go into the tournament having played more than 200 minutes, or more than three games, more than their equivalents at the 2018 World Cup — and, just as significant, did so with far less time to recover.
Before the last European Championship, in 2016, players had enjoyed an average of 4.5 days of rest between games. This time, that figure is down to 3.9 days, according to the study. For some of the major nations, the figures are more striking still: The players representing Spain, France, England and Italy have had, on average, only 3.5 days between matches this season.
To Strudwick, though, that is only part of the story. As leagues and governing bodies scrambled to make up ground lost to the first wave of the pandemic, there was little or no break between the end of the 2019-20 season and the start of the 2020-21 edition. In some cases, it extended no longer than a couple of weeks.
“There was barely any time off,” Strudwick said. “Normally there is a season, an international break, a split in the middle, and then you go again. This time, it was just a small break, and then into the next season, with games every three or four days and highly dense international periods.”
Quite what effect that will have is not easy to predict. An initial reading would suggest that, more than anyone else, England is vulnerable to the effects of fatigue. The members of its squad have played more minutes than anyone else this season: an average of 3,700, or 40 games — eight entire fixtures more than the average player at the Euros.
That can be attributed to the Premier League’s decision not to follow the rest of Europe in allowing teams to use five substitutes this season. It is no coincidence that five of the six players who have seen the most action this year play in England’s top flight (though the overall leader, the Netherlands midfielder Frenkie De Jong, plays for Barcelona in Spain.)
But its effects may be offset by the fact that only one nation in the field — Turkey — has called up a younger squad than Southgate’s team. England may be just a little more susceptible to fatigue than France, Portugal and Germany, but its team is also significantly younger. Belgium, by contrast, has among the most experienced squads at the tournament, but far fewer recent miles in its legs.
It is possible, though, that fatigue — of a sort that disproportionately affects the traditional favorites — might act as a great equalizer; the fact that so many of the major stars are running on fumes may serve to make the tournament more exciting, rather than less.
That, certainly, is Strudwick’s reasoning. “It won’t go to form,” he said. “There will be upsets. It could be on the cards for a less-heralded team. It is going to be whoever utilizes their squad, maintains freshness, and navigates it best.”
Strudwick is not a dispassionate observer, of course. Wales, for one, has reason to hope that he is right. Its squad has only a couple of standout performers — Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey — but neither played as much as they would have liked this season. Neither Bale (for Tottenham) nor Ramsey (for Juventus) passed 1,500 minutes of competitive action for their clubs. Both should, in theory, be rather more fresh than usual.
There is, however, another potential problem in all those heavy workloads: not that the physical condition of the players will serve to make the tournament more open, but that it will make it more dangerous.
“There is a proven correlation between injury prevalence and lack of recovery,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, the General Secretary of FIFPro, the global players’ union.
“This season some top players played up to 80 percent of their matches without the ideal time to recover,” he added. “We have already seen the impact of certain types of injuries typical for fatigue. Of course, we hope the players stay healthy, and can play at their very best. But after a year like we have had, the reality is that the risk for injuries is high.”
That is what Strudwick and all of his peers and contemporaries and rivals fear the most. It is what they have spent weeks and months trying to prevent, or at least to mitigate. They may not be talking about fatigue, and all the threats it poses, but they will certainly be thinking about it, every day for the next month, until only one of them is left standing, and at last they can rest.
Long Overlooked, Wyomia Tyus Is Seen as a Pioneer of Protests
To stay loose for the women’s 100-meter sprint at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Wyomia Tyus danced the “Tighten Up” before settling into her starting blocks. The dance song was an early funk classic by Archie Bell and the Drells, a Houston band that proclaimed with jaunty assurance, “We don’t only sing, but we dance just as good as we want.”
Tyus stepped with similar confidence into the blocks. And 11.08 seconds later, she ran into history. She set a world record and became the first man or woman to win 100-meter titles in consecutive Olympics, ratifying the gold medal she won unexpectedly as a 19-year-old at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo.
Tyus’s brief dance was preserved on video and became part of Olympic lore. But, she acknowledged, perhaps no one noticed the protest against racism symbolized by the shorts she wore as a Black woman from Jim Crow Georgia. The shorts were dark blue — as close to black as Tyus had available and distinct from the official white shorts that her two American teammates wore in the race.
“It made the statement that I needed,” Tyus, now 75, said in a pair of expansive telephone interviews, calling it “my contribution to the protest for human rights.”
Antiracism protests by the quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and all the athletes who have denounced the murder of George Floyd, had an iconic precedent in the indelible glove-fisted salute by the sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Mexico City Olympics.
But female athletes of color also have long advocated social justice, often to be overlooked. Only recently has Tyus finally begun to be recognized for her activism as well as her sprinting.
The stories of Tyus and other unnoticed or forgotten Black female athletes help provide an evolving understanding of sporting activism. Smith and Carlos, as powerful and unforgettable as their protest was, are “not where the story begins or ends; it’s more expansive than that,” said Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history and African American studies at Penn State who is writing a book to be called “Can’t Eat a Medal: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow.”
Tyus does not remember the moment she decided to wear the dark shorts. She did not tell anyone of her intention, she said, or speak to reporters about her gesture afterward, believing that few seemed interested in what a woman, especially a Black woman, had to say in that era. “I wasn’t doing it for the press,” she said. “I was doing it for what I believed in, that it was time for a change.”
As the Mexico City Olympics continued, Tyus publicly criticized the expulsion of Smith and Carlos from the Games. She wore the dark blue shorts again in anchoring the American women to a world record in the 4×100-meter relay, then joined a teammate in briefly clenching her fist on the medal podium in support of Smith and Carlos. She also emphasized to reporters that the members of the relay team were dedicating their gold medals to their ousted countrymen.
Several years ago, Tyus donated her shorts to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Yet they remain cataloged online simply as an article of athletic clothing, not an emblem of protest: Wilson track shorts, royal blue, elastic waistband and leg openings, wash in lukewarm water, use mild soap, do not bleach.
Not until Tyus co-wrote her memoir, “Tigerbelle,” in 2018, did other athletes, reporters and the public begin to understand her activism. Davis, of Penn State, places Tyus at a pivotal point where Black female athletes began decrying gender-based discrimination as well as racial injustice.
Tyus became a vital force in the formation in 1974 of the Women’s Sports Foundation, which is dedicated to enabling opportunities for girls and women. (“Without Black athletes, we would have been nothing,” said Donna de Varona, the foundation’s first president.) Her activism also was a forerunner to the Black Lives Matter protests by players in the W.N.B.A. and to the advocacy of the American hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who bowed her head and raised her fist after winning her competition at the 2019 Pan American Games.
“I feel there is a direct connection between us,” Berry said of Tyus. “It’s unfortunate we don’t hear these stories. So often, women are overlooked. We bear the biggest burdens.”
Sleeping in a Dresser Drawer
Tyus grew up in Griffin, Ga., south of Atlanta, in the era of separate drinking fountains and separate schools for Blacks and whites. She rode an hour on a bus to her school when she could have walked to the nearby white school. The Ku Klux Klan, Tyus wrote in her memoir, was “a regular participant in local parades.”
The family lived on a dairy farm. Her father, Willie, was a tenant worker. Her mother, Marie, worked at a dry cleaner. She and her three older brothers slept in dresser drawers when they were infants. The family’s farmhouse didn’t have indoor plumbing. Drinking water was carried from a well and sometimes scooped from a hollowed-out gourd. Still, the house felt like a safe haven, Tyus recalled, with plentiful bedrooms and fireplaces, vast porches, a huge kitchen and wide-open spaces outside to roam the surrounding fields and woods.
White girls were not permitted by their parents to play with her and her brothers, Tyus said. But white boys did, and were allowed, as long as they did not use the N-word. “You do not let them call you by any names but your name,” she said that her father told her and her brothers.
On Sundays, she walked through the woods with her father. In ways that were sometimes direct but often so subtle that she would not fully understand until later, Willie Tyus used nature to speak of change and freedom. “Things are not always going to be this way,” she remembered her father saying. “Ask questions. Stand up for what you believe in. You’re going to do things in this world.”
Then, on Aug. 29, 1959, her 14th birthday, the family house caught fire and her world collapsed. The family lost everything, Tyus said, including her father’s spirit and determination. He died a year later. “The fire killed him,” she wrote. “You could see it.”
Tyus said she closed in on herself, becoming a recluse, giving mostly one-word answers when she spoke.
She began to distract herself, and then express herself, with sports, first basketball, then track. She was recruited to Tennessee State, in Nashville, to run for the university’s renowned women’s track team, the Tigerbelles. The coach was Ed Temple, who sent 40 sprinters to the Olympics from the 1950s to the 1980s. They won 13 gold medals, including three by Wilma Rudolph at the 1960 Rome Games.
A Citizen of the World
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Tyus was 19 and intending to compete more for experience than for victory. Temple told her that 1968 would be her year. But she upset her friend and Tennessee State teammate Edith McGuire to win the 100, before McGuire prevailed in the 200. Another awakening occurred off the track.
There were no back-of-the-bus humiliations for Black athletes in Tokyo. No separate bathrooms. The athletes’ village seemed a kaleidoscope of different colors, nationalities, languages. World War II was not yet two decades past and Black people and other Westerners were still viewed as “kind of strange” in Tokyo, Tyus recalled. But she and McGuire marveled at how they were treated with friendly respect by the Japanese when they went shopping.
“To go to a different place and find out everybody was using the same fountains, the same bathrooms, that people are somewhat nice to you, that was eye-opening,” McGuire said.
When they returned home, Tyus and McGuire said, they were given a parade in Atlanta, but only through Black neighborhoods.
By October 1968, when the Mexico City Olympics arrived, Tyus had graduated from Tennessee State with a degree in recreation. She had become a citizen of the world through sport, having traveled to the Soviet Union and Africa. At home, social unrest was aflame over civil rights and Vietnam. In 1967, she attended a speech on campus by the charismatic civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael, who espoused Black power and, Tyus wrote, “reminded us that we were human beings, that we were no longer slaves and that we had to be more active.”
Six months before the Olympics began, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, down the interstate from Nashville. Days before the opening ceremony, dozens of Mexican students were killed in a Mexico City plaza by government snipers.
The Olympic Project for Human Rights, or O.P.H.R., organized by the sociologist Harry Edwards, advocated boycotting the Games. But Tyus said that she and other Black female athletes were barely consulted. It was assumed by the men, she said, that “if we say we’re going to do it, the women will follow.”
Edwards said he did not contact female athletes because nearly all of them were affiliated with historically Black colleges and universities, which did not support the project. But, he added in a text message, regardless of whether Tyus supported the O.P.H.R., Olympic protests and Smith and Carlos, “she is still one of the greatest athletes of her day.” He added, “And that’s enough, and should be recognized as such.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then Lew Alcindor, declined to participate in the Mexico City Olympics, but a widespread boycott did not occur. Each athlete was left to make his or her own choice about protesting. Smith and Carlos wore black gloves. Some Americans wore black socks and berets and supportive buttons. Tyus decided to wear her dark blue shorts for the 100 meters.
Her gesture was apparently not noticed or acknowledged in mainstream news accounts at the time. The New York Times’s report from Oct. 15, 1968, focused on Al Oerter, the American discus thrower who became the first athlete to win a gold medal in the same individual event in four consecutive Olympics. Tyus was quoted only as saying that these would be her final Games and that “I’d like to retire as a winner.”
The next day, Tyus returned to the Olympic Stadium to watch Smith and Carlos run the 200 meters. When she saw them wearing black socks without shoes and raising their gloved fists on the victory stand, the moment felt “mind blowing,” she said at a 2018 symposium at Penn State. She heard rumbling discontent in the stadium during the anthem and told herself, “My gosh, I hope nothing serious happens here.”
Two days later, after eating breakfast in the athletes’ village, Tyus and some track teammates were informed by an Associated Press reporter that Smith and Carlos had been barred from the Olympics. “I think it is awful,” Tyus was quoted as saying. “They did not hurt anybody. As long as they don’t touch somebody and hurt them, I don’t see how they can be punished.”
For the 4×100-meter relay, Tyus again wore her dark blue shorts. So did her three teammates, but one of them, Mildrette Netter, said recently that she was unaware of any protest. At a postrace news conference, Tyus was quoted in a Reuters article as saying, “We dedicate our relay win to John Carlos and Tommie Smith.”
On the victory stand, Tyus and a teammate briefly raised their fists in support of Smith and Carlos, as seen in photographs discovered by Davis in the archives of the International Olympic Committee. Tyus identified the teammate as Barbara Ferrell, who did not respond to requests for comment.
The podium gesture was a quick show of solidarity with Smith and Carlos, Tyus said. Members of the U.S. men’s 4×400-relay team also raised their fists. The dark blue shorts made a more important statement, Tyus said, because “the shorts were at the forefront of my whole being to bring attention to human rights, whether anybody picked that up or not.”
More than 50 years later, in Tyus’s native Georgia, whether the basketball players knew her name or not, members of the Atlanta Dream W.N.B.A. team revolted against a team owner, Senator Kelly Loeffler, after she criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. In February, Loeffler, who lost her bid for re-election, sold her interest in the team. This is what Tyus had long advocated: Speak up and speak out.
“If you speak out, you do see change,” she said. “Staying silent doesn’t work.”
Susan C. Beachy and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
In Pandev They Trust
Goran Pandev’s face is everywhere in Strumica, a sleepy city tucked away in the corner of North Macedonia, not far from the borders with Greece and Bulgaria. It is on the banners around the field at the local stadium. It is painted on the walls of the changing rooms. It beams out from the television screens of dozens of cafes, which faithfully broadcast every game played by the striker’s Italian club team, Genoa.
Strumica has produced presidents and prime ministers, but it is Pandev it holds closest to its heart. He has repaid that affection. Plenty of the players who leave North Macedonia for fame and fortune in western Europe’s most glamorous soccer leagues invest in businesses at home. Eljif Elmas, a midfielder for Napoli, often returns to the family pastry shop in the capital, Skopje. Boban Nikolov, who plays for Lecce, helped his father open a transport company in the city of Stip.
Pandev’s only rival for the title of the country’s greatest-ever player, Darko Pancev, runs a cafe in Skopje named after the jersey he wore during his career: Café 9.
“Here, it is common for former footballers to open a cafe or restaurant and sit there all day,” said Mario Sotirovski, the soccer editor of the newspaper Vecer. “Pandev is different.”
For more than a decade, he has funded an eponymous soccer academy here, training 300 young hopefuls at its spectacular, Italian-inflected campus in the city, as well as 1,000 more across the country. “He is an idol for all the kids,” said Jugoslav Trenchovski, Akademija Pandev’s director.
The facilities available at the academy — there are plans to open a sports center by the end of this year that will include a hotel, a spa and a museum — make it an outlier in North Macedonia. Other than the million-dollar national training center, largely financed by FIFA, that opened its doors in 2018, the country’s soccer infrastructure is largely threadbare. Most stadiums only have one grandstand. Capacities rarely exceed 4,000.
Pandev’s greater impact may not be in concrete and steel, though, but in something far less tangible. In November last year, the striker — at 37, he is older than the country he represents — scored the goal in a qualifying game against Georgia that assured North Macedonia a place in this summer’s European Championship. It was, he said at the time, “a great victory for our people.”
In North Macedonia, the significance of qualifying for its first major tournament extended far beyond sport. “From now on, the whole world will know where our country is,” said Muamed Sejdini, the president of the Football Federation of Macedonia. “When I talk to people from abroad, I will no longer have to explain that we border with Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece.”
But it is more than a matter of national pride. In 2019, after two decades of dispute with the last of those neighbors and a contested referendum, the country changed its name: from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to North Macedonia. By placating Greece, the country hoped to remove the first, and most daunting, obstacle in its path to joining the European Union.
Now, two years later, there is a belief that its case can only be strengthened by playing in the Euros. “These players have raised the bar a lot,” said Sase Gjoles, the lead singer for the band Vis Risovi. “There is no going back. It is a message for the new generation.” Gjoles has written a song to support the team during the tournament. Its chorus runs: “Let’s go to Europe, the place where we belong.”
That sense of unity is important. Around a quarter of North Macedonia’s population is ethnically Albanian, separated from the Macedonian majority by its language and its predominantly Muslim faith. “None of us supports Macedonia,” said Arijan Murtezani, a graduate student. “It’s our country and we respect it, but we also love and honor our national heritage, which is Albanian.”
Murtezani is a member of the Ballistët, an ultras group that supports Shkëndija, a team in the largely Albanian city of Tetovo. Shkëndija — spark in Albanian — plays in red and black, the colors of the Albanian flag, and was banned in the latter years of Communist rule amid concerns its popularity might stoke nationalistic fervor.
Many of the teams in Macedonian soccer are defined by their ethnic ties, and violence between ultra groups can run along those lines. In June 2018, a Vardar Skopje fan was killed in broad daylight at a bus stop; two fans of Shkupi, a team from an ethnic Albanian neighborhood in the capital, ended up in prison.
Sejdini, the soccer federation’s president, said he hoped that the team’s European Championship campaign will help unite the country under one flag. There is an initiative among ultra groups to form a united front to support the national team, under the name Falanga — the phalanx. The words refers to the military formation invented by Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, two millenniums ago.
The team, certainly, reflects North Macedonia’s complex, interwoven fabric. Some of its stars are ethnically Albanian — Ezgjan Alioski and Enis Bardhi — and some, like Nikolov, are Macedonian. Elmas, a winger for the Italian team Napoli, is of Turkish descent. The hope is that they can help to forge an identity for the country, one that is not only projected externally, to Europe, but internally, too.
Still, it was fitting that, when North Macedonia took the field in a major tournament for the first time in its brief history, its first goal — in a 3-1 defeat to Austria on Sunday — came from a familiar face; the most familiar face of all, the one that hangs on banners and is painted on walls and beams out from televisions across Strumica. Goran Pandev has spent a decade trying to change soccer in his country. With one strike, he might have changed his country through soccer.
Emergency Measures Eased in Tokyo as Olympics Loom
The government in Japan said on Thursday that it would relax emergency measures in Tokyo and other areas as the country’s latest coronavirus outbreak recedes, and with the Olympic Games scheduled to begin in just over five weeks.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made the announcement at a meeting of the government’s coronavirus task force, saying that new infections had declined over the past month and that the strain on the nation’s hospitals had eased.
On Sunday, the state of emergency will be lifted in nine prefectures, but some restrictions will remain in place in Tokyo and in six other areas until at least July 11, the government said. Emergency measures in Okinawa will remain in effect for three more weeks, officials said.
The announcement comes as new daily cases reported in Japan have fallen by 48 percent over the past two weeks, to an average of 1,625 a day, according to a New York Times database. More than 684,000 vaccine doses were administered on Wednesday, twice as many as a month ago, based on government data.
Still, Japan’s vaccination drive remains one of the slowest among richer nations: About 26 million vaccine doses have been administered, with 15 percent of the population having received at least one shot, Times data shows.
Tokyo has been under a state of emergency since late April, the third since the start of the pandemic. Under the rules that go into effect on Monday, alcohol sales will be allowed to resume, but only until 7 p.m., while dining establishments will still be asked to close by 8 p.m.
The chief medical adviser to Japan’s government, Shigeru Omi, said that officials must remain vigilant and “take strong measures without hesitation” if cases begin to rise again.
With the Games set to begin in Tokyo on July 23 — and officials reportedly considering allowing up to 10,000 domestic spectators at some events — experts warn that infections could resurge. But John Coates, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee who is currently visiting Japan and under quarantine, said at a news conference last month that the Games could go on even if another state of emergency were declared.