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


And now it is time for sports.


SIMON: Networks to keep some hosts and reporters home for the Beijing Olympics. New names shine at the Australian Open - and the barbecue bowl tomorrow - Kansas City vs. Buffalo.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

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

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

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, the stated reason is COVID. China has a very strict zero-COVID policy that limits movement and access. And if you do test positive, there could be a lengthy period of isolation. The networks did not mention concerns about free expression. But those concerns are there, Scott. A current U.S. State Department advisory about travel to China includes warnings for Western journalists. This week, an official with the Beijing Organizing Committee warned athletes could be punished for any expression not in line with the Olympic spirit. Now, human rights activists have been hopeful that 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 because their safety can't be guaranteed.

SIMON: We note you'll be there for NPR. And I don't want to put you on the spot, but do you have any concerns about not being able to cover what happens honestly?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, sure. You know, and it feels insufficient to go to China and just report on the glory of sport, although much will be glorious, and the athletes are to be commended. And it really is too bad the International Olympic Committee has put them in an uncomfortable position by awarding the Games to another country with authoritarian rule. Athletes have no say in where the Olympics are held. But you do wonder how far you can go in reporting there. People with a lot more experience in China than me think the bar will be pretty high for action against Olympic reporters. I mean, the government knows many hundreds of 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 athletes - to talk about the sports - do you look forward to covering?

GOLDMAN: So many - so unfair to limit it to a few - but the great U.S. male figure skater Nathan Chen - can he overcome a disappointing performance at the last Olympics and deny Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu from winning his third-straight Olympic gold medal? I'm looking forward to Alpine skiing, especially the downhill, with its raw speed. I'm in awe of the athletes who do that. And on the other hand, I love the raw endurance of cross-country skiing and biathlon. We will see if Norway continues its dominance in Nordic skiing. Those are just a few. And of course, I left out curling. I mean, that's always a thrill.

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

GOLDMAN: I know.

SIMON: You and I both...

GOLDMAN: Forgive me.

SIMON: ...Exalt...

GOLDMAN: Forgive me.

SIMON: ...Over curling. Look, I'm not going to ask another question about Novak Djokovic. There's been some great tennis even without him at the Australian Open. And I'm thinking of the daughter of Russian immigrants to New Jersey, Amanda Anisimova, who was just terrific yesterday.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, she beat four-time grand slam winner and Australian Open defending champion Naomi Osaka - another indication of how topsy-turvy and exciting women's tennis is. Four Americans - four American women have made it to the final 16, including Jessica Pegula. And I love her tennis-NFL connection. Her parents own the Buffalo Bills. She wore Bills colors 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. Both Pegula and the Bills are underdogs in their upcoming competitions. We'll see if they both can pull the upsets.

SIMON: But I mean, what do you foresee? The Chiefs are favored by a hair - two points, if I'm not mistaken.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Yeah. It's considered the best of the four games this weekend - a battle between two great quarterbacks - Josh Allen of the Bills, Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs. Although every time you talk about a great quarterback shootout, the game invariably hinges on running attacks and defense...

SIMON: Right, yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Which may very well be the case in this one. Kansas City's at home. Home field matters. I kind of like them by that hair. But we shall see, Scott. That's why they play the games.

SIMON: You mean time will tell, right?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Yeah, that too.

SIMON: Oh gosh, Tom. I'm glad you're on the job. NPR's Tom Goldman - thanks so much. Talk to you soon, my friend.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOS BITCHOS’ “LAS PANTERAS”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on