HONG KONG — Xu Jiayin was China’s richest man, a symbol of the country’s economic rise who helped transform poverty-stricken villages into urbanized metropolises for the fledgling middle class. As his company, China Evergrande Group, became one of the country’s largest property developers, he amassed the trappings of the elite, with trips to Paris to taste rare French wines, a million-dollar yacht, private jets and access to some of the most powerful people in Beijing.
“All I have and all that Evergrande Group has achieved were endowed by the party, the state and the whole society,” Mr. Xu said in a 2018 speech thanking the Chinese Communist Party for his success.
China is threatening to take it all away.
The debt that powered the country’s breakneck growth for decades is now jeopardizing the economy — and the government is changing the rules. Beijing has signaled that it will no longer tolerate the strategy of borrowing to fuel business expansion that turned Mr. Xu and his company into a real estate powerhouse, pushing Evergrande to the precipice.
Last week, the company, which has unpaid bills totaling more than $300 billion, missed a key payment to foreign investors. That sent the world into a panic over whether China was facing its own so-called Lehman moment, a reference to the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank that led to the global financial crisis.
struggles have exposed the flaws of the Chinese financial system — unrestrained borrowing, expansion and corruption. The company’s crisis is testing the resolve of Chinese leaders’ efforts to reform as they chart a new course for the country’s economy.
If they save Evergrande, they risk sending a message that some companies are still too big to fail. If they don’t, as many as 1.6 million home buyers waiting for unfinished apartments and hundreds of small businesses, creditors and banks may lose their money.
“This is the beginning of the end of China’s growth model as we know it,” said Leland Miller, the chief executive officer of the consulting firm China Beige Book. “The term ‘paradigm shift’ is always overused, so people tend to ignore it. But that’s a good way of describing what’s happening right now.”
speech accepting an award for his charitable donations.
He went to college and then spent a decade working at a steel mill. He started Evergrande in 1996 in Shenzhen, a special economic zone where the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping launched the country’s experiment with capitalism. As China urbanized, Evergrande expanded beyond Shenzhen, across the country.
Evergrande lured new home buyers by selling them on more than just the tiny apartment they would get in a huge complex with dozens of identical towers. New Evergrande customers were buying into the lifestyle associated with names like Cloud Lake Royal Garden and Riverside Mansion.
annual report was Wen Jiahong, the brother of China’s vice premier, Wen Jiabao, who oversaw the country’s banks as head of the Central Financial Work Commission.
elite group of political advisers known as the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
“He could not have gotten so big without the collaboration of the country’s biggest banks,” Victor Shih, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, said of Mr. Xu. “That suggests the potential help of senior officials with a lot of influence.”
Mr. Xu was also a power broker who socialized with the Communist Party’s elite families, according to a memoir by Desmond Shum, a well-connected businessman. In his book, “Red Roulette,” published this month, Mr. Shum recounts a 2011 European wine-tasting and shopping spree in which Mr. Xu took part, along with the daughter of the Communist Party’s fourth-ranking official at the time, Jia Qinglin, and her investor husband.
The party flew to Europe on a private jet, with the men playing a popular Chinese card game called “fight the landlord.” At Pavillon Ledoyen, a Paris restaurant, the party spent more than $100,000 on a wine spree, downing magnums of Château Lafite wines, starting with a vintage 1900 and ending with a 1990. On a trip to the French Riviera, Mr. Xu considered buying a $100 million yacht owned by a Hong Kong mogul, Mr. Shum wrote.
To supercharge Evergrande’s growth, Mr. Xu often borrowed twice on each piece of land that he developed — first from the bank and then from home buyers who were sometimes willing to pay 100 percent of the value of their future home before it was built.
property grew to account for as much as one-third of China’s economic growth. Evergrande built more than a thousand developments in hundreds of cities and created more than 3.3 million jobs a year.
cool down, the damage caused by Evergrande’s voracious appetite for debt became impossible to ignore. There are nearly 800 unfinished Evergrande projects in more than 200 cities across China. Employees, contractors and home buyers have held protests to demand their money. Many fear they will become unwitting victims in China’s debt-reform campaign.
Yong Jushang, a contractor from Changsha in central China, still hasn’t been paid for the $460,000 of materials and work he provided for an Evergrande project that was completed in May. Desperate not to lose his workers and business partners, he threatened to block the roads around the development this month until the money was paid.
“It’s not a small amount for us,” Mr. Yong said. “This could bankrupt us.”
Mr. Yong and others like him are at the heart of regulators’ biggest challenge in dealing with Evergrande. If Beijing tries to make an example out of Evergrande by letting it collapse, the wealth of millions of people could vanish along with Mr. Xu’s empire.
protested on the streets and complained online about delays in construction. The central bank has put Evergrande on notice.
And China’s increasingly nationalistic commentators are calling for the company’s demise. Debt-saddled corporate giants like Evergrande were given the freedom to “open their bloody mouths and devour the wealth of our country and our people until they are too big to fall,” Li Guangman, a retired newspaper editor whose recent views have been given a platform by official state media, wrote in an essay.
Without proper intervention, Mr. Li argued, “China’s economy and society will be set on the crater of the volcano where all may be ignited any time.”
Michael Forsythe reported from New York. Matt Phillips contributed reporting from New York.
At an employee dinner, women were told to rank the attractiveness of the men at the table. During a team-building exercise, a woman was pressured to straddle her male co-worker in front of colleagues. Top executives traded lewd comments about male virility at company events and online.
The e-commerce giant Alibaba, one of China’s most globalized internet companies, has often celebrated the number of women in its senior ranks. In 2018, the company’s billionaire co-founder, Jack Ma, told a conference in Geneva that one secret to Alibaba’s success was that 49 percent of employees were women.
But that message of female empowerment is now being called into question after an Alibaba employee accused her boss of raping her after an alcohol-fueled business dinner. The woman, who has been identified by the police and her lawyers only by her surname, Zhou, said bosses and human resources had shrugged off her complaints. She eventually resorted to screaming about the assault in a company cafeteria last month.
“An Ali male executive raped a female subordinate, and no one in the company has pursued this,” Ms. Zhou yelled, according to a video that was posted on the internet.
fired the man accused of rape, said it would establish an anti-sexual-harassment policy and declared itself “staunchly opposed to the ugly forced drinking culture.” Yet former Alibaba employees say the problems run much deeper than the company has acknowledged.
Interviews with nine former employees suggest that casual sexism is common at Alibaba. They describe a work environment in which women are made to feel embarrassed and belittled during team-building and other activities that the company has incorporated in its culture, a striking departure from the image of inclusion Alibaba has tried to project.
The police investigation into Ms. Zhou’s case is continuing. Alibaba appears to be trying to keep a lid on discussions of the matter. The company recently fired 10 employees for leaking information about the episode, according to two people familiar with the matter. Most former employees who spoke with The New York Times asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation.
immediate changes to the way it handles workplace culture and misconduct matters after Ms. Zhou’s case came to light, the statement said. Upon examining its policies and reporting processes, the company found “certain areas that did not meet our standards,” the statement said.
The statement did not address any of the specific allegations made by the former employees who spoke to The Times.
Many Alibaba departments use games and other ice-breaking activities to make co-workers feel at ease with one another. Kiki Qian joined the company in 2017. Her team welcomed her with a game of charades. When she lost, she said, she was punished by being made to “fly the plane,” as her co-workers called it. The stunt involved straddling a male colleague as he sat in an office chair. The colleague then lay back in the chair, causing Ms. Qian to fall on top of him, face first.
“I realized while carrying out the punishment that it could be a little perverted,” Ms. Qian, 28, said in a telephone interview.
On a separate occasion, Ms. Qian said, she saw a woman burst into tears after being pressured to jump into the arms of a male colleague during a team game.
Other former Alibaba employees said ice-breaking rituals included uncomfortable questions about their sexual histories. One former employee said she and other women at a team dinner had been asked to rank their male colleagues by attractiveness. Another said she had felt humiliated during a game in which employees were required to touch each other on the shoulders, back and thighs.
Mr. Ma joked onstage about how Alibaba’s grueling work hours affected employees’ sex lives.
went further with the riff at the next year’s ceremony.
“At work, we emphasize the 996 spirit,” he said, referring to the practice, common at Chinese internet companies, of working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.
“In life, we need 669,” Mr. Ma said. “Six days, six times.” The Mandarin word for “nine” sounds the same as the word for “long-lasting.” The crowd hooted and clapped.
Alibaba shared the remarks, with a winking emoji, on its official account on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform. Wang Shuai, the company’s public relations chief, wrote on Weibo that Mr. Ma’s comments had reminded him of how good it was to be young. His post included vulgar references to his anatomy.
Alibaba also gives employees a handbook of morale-boosting “Alibaba slang.” Several entries are laced with sexual innuendo. One urges employees to be “fierce and able to last a long time.”
Feng Yuan, a prominent feminist in China, said the kind of behavior described at Alibaba could create the conditions under which bullying and harassment were quietly tolerated and promoted.
“In companies where men dominate, hierarchical power structures and toxic masculinity become strengthened over time,” Ms. Feng said. “They become hotbeds for sexual harassment and violence.”
Last month, Ms. Zhou shared her rape accusation on Alibaba’s internal website. According to her account of the events, her boss told a male client who was also at the alcohol-fueled business dinner, “Look how good I am to you; I brought you a beauty,” referring to Ms. Zhou.
Boozy meals have long been widespread in corporate China, where it can be seen as offensive to refuse to drink with a superior. Three days after Ms. Zhou reported the assault to Alibaba, her boss still had not been fired, she wrote in her account. She was told that this was out of consideration for her reputation.
“This ridiculous logic,” she wrote. “Just who are they protecting?”
Elsie Chen contributed reporting. Albee Zhang and Claire Fu contributed research.
Toshiko Ishii, 64, who runs a traditional hotel in the city’s Taito Ward, spent over $180,000 converting the building’s first floor into an eatery in anticipation of a flood of tourists.
It was already a bit of a risk, and when the pandemic hit, Ms. Ishii became worried that she might have to shut down. Even with the Olympics, she has had no guests for weeks.
“There’s nothing you can really do about the Olympics or the coronavirus, but I’m worried,” she said. “We don’t know when this will end, and I have a lot of doubts about how long we can keep the business going.”
Pandemic or no, reality was bound to fall short of the grand expectations set by Japanese leaders.
They pitched Tokyo 2020 as an opportunity to show the world a Japan that had shaken off decades of economic stagnation and the devastation of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that touched off the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Appealing to nostalgia for the 1964 Olympics, when Japan wowed the world with its advanced technology and economic strength, Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister, framed the 2020 Olympics as an ad campaign for a cool, confident country that was the equal of a rising China.
After decades of perceived decline, “more and more Japanese, the elder generation, senior people, wanted to remember, wanted to repeat that successful experience again in 21st-century Japan,” said Shunya Yoshimi, a professor of sociology at Tokyo University who has written several books about Japan’s relationship to the events.
Instead, the pandemic brought a sense of fear and uncertainty that were worsened by the decisions of Japan’s leaders.
The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona had the Dream Team. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing had the Michael Phelps medal sweep. The Tokyo Olympics has a pandemic.
That has been the greatest challenge for NBCUniversal, the company that paid more than $1 billion to run 7,000 hours of games coverage across two broadcast networks, six cable channels and a fledgling streaming platform, Peacock.
The ratings have been a disappointment, averaging 16.8 million viewers a night through Tuesday, a steep drop from the 29 million who tuned in through the same day of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. NBCUniversal has offered to make up for the smaller than expected television audience by offering free ads to some companies that bought commercial time during the games, according to four people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations.
opening ceremony set a downbeat tone. Instead of the usual pageant of athletes smiling and waving to the crowd, there was a procession of participants walking through a mostly empty Tokyo Olympic Stadium, all wearing masks to protect themselves against the spread of Covid-19 as a new variant raged. The live morning broadcast and prime-time replay drew the lowest ratings for an opening ceremony in 33 years, with just under 17 million viewers. The high came Sunday, July 25, when a little more than 20 million people tuned in.
24 years as NBC’s prime-time Olympics host before leaving the network in 2017. “You can’t create something out of thin air. Everybody knows that this is, we hope, a one-of-a-kind Olympics.”
“It’s like if somebody is running the 100 meters and they have a weight around their ankles,” Mr. Costas continued. “That is not a fair judge of their speed.”
A widespread change in viewing habits, from traditional TV to streaming platforms, has been a big factor in the number of people watching. While NBC’s prime-time audience has shrunk considerably from what it was for the Rio games five years ago, the Olympics broadcasts are still bringing in significantly more viewers than even the most popular entertainment shows. The most recent episode of CBS’s “Big Brother,” a ratings leader, drew an audience of less than four million.
“We had a little bit of bad luck — there was a drumbeat of negativity,” said Jeff Shell, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, during a conference call last week, after NBC’s parent company, Comcast, reported its second-quarter earnings. The less-than-festive atmosphere, he added, “has resulted a little bit in linear ratings being probably less than we expected.”
a television critic for Vulture. “But more than anything, watching this year has shown the wounds that we’re dealing with.”
Ms. Chaney noted NBC’s interview with the American swimmer Caeleb Dressel right after he won gold in a glamour event, the men’s 100-meter freestyle. Moved to tears, Mr. Dressel said, “It was a really tough year. It was really hard.”
The 13-hour time-zone difference between Tokyo and the East Coast may have also figured in the drop in prime-time viewers. Many people in the United States have been waking up to phone alerts trumpeting the medal winners who will be featured in that night’s broadcast.
all-around win — seemed to gain traction not so much on TV but in snippets shared on social media. That trend has been apparent in the number of followers for NBCUniversal’s Olympics channel on TikTok, which have shot up 348 percent since the opening ceremony.
Those who decide to watch must choose from a jumble of channels and digital options. In addition to NBC, the coverage is spread across NBC Sports Network, CNBC, USA Network, the Olympic Channel, the Golf Channel, the Spanish-language channels Universo and Telemundo, not to mention NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.
There are so many choices that NBC’s “Today” show brought in Steve Kornacki, the political correspondent best known for elucidating election results, to break it all down. “If you’re a badminton fan, you’re going to be looking for NBCSN,” he told viewers. “If you’re an archery fan, USA Network. There’s all sorts of different possibilities!”
Jim Bell, who stepped away from Tokyo planning in 2018 when the company placed him in charge of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” He left that program and NBC a year later.
Ms. Solomon said she has been waking up at 4:30 a.m. in Tokyo and relying on double-shot lattes to get her through workdays that may go till 11 p.m. She does not share the opinion of some critics of the coverage.
“Every day, new stars arise, and new stories come to the fore,” she said. “So, personally, I don’t want it to end.”
In the view of Mr. Costas, who guided viewers through NBC’s Olympics coverage from 1992 through 2016, any comparison of the Tokyo games with previous competitions is not fair, given the pall cast by the pandemic. And three years from now, if all goes according to plan, NBCUniversal will get what amounts to a do-over in Paris.
“Paris 2024 will be, we hope, fingers crossed, much more like a classic Olympics situation,” he said. “That will be a more legitimate test.”
ATHENS — Shells of houses and cars left gutted by flames. Stretches of forest reduced to ash. Tourists evacuated by boat from once idyllic beaches where the skies are thick with smoke. As southern Europe grapples with one of its worst heat waves in decades, deadly forest fires have engulfed stretches of the region, bringing a newly reopened tourism industry to a halt and forcing mass evacuations.
The raging fires pushed residents from their homes in villages on the Greek mainland and islands and across neighboring Turkey, and forced tourists to abandon beachside destinations across the region.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the government’s handling of the deadly disaster, with opponents denouncing the lack of aerial support for the firefighting efforts.
Hundreds of square miles of forest burned as more than 180 fires blazed across the country. At least eight people died, hundreds were injured and dozens lost their homes.
in a video posted on Twitter. “My forest is in flames right now.”
Firefighters were able to control a fire approaching a power plant in Milas after working through the night to save the facility. Trees on the grounds of the power plant were burned, but the main site was not seriously damaged, officials said.
Greece battled multiple large fires across the country that killed scores of people.
While scientists have not yet had time to evaluate the connection between the current wave of extreme temperatures and global warming, it fits an overall trend that has seen climate change play a role in extreme weather in Europe. Research has shown that in major heat waves across Europe in recent summers, climate change has been a significant worsening factor.
Efthymis Lekkas, a professor of natural disaster management at the University of Athens, warned of “an enduring nightmare in August,” and urged the authorities to be ready for potential flooding after the destruction of large stretches of forest.
Greece’s General Secretariat for Civil Protection warned of an “extreme” risk of fires on Friday, as intense winds are forecast to worsen the situation.
Niki Kitsantonis reported from Athens and Megan Specia reported from New York.
More than 1,500 workers for the video game maker Activision Blizzard walked out from their jobs this week. Thousands signed a letter rebuking their employer. And even as the chief executive apologized, current and former employees said they would not stop raising a ruckus.
Shay Stein, who used to work at Activision, said it was “heartbreaking.” Lisa Welch, a former vice president, said she felt “profound disappointment.” Others took to Twitter or waved signs outside one of the company’s offices on Wednesday to share their anger.
Activision, known for its hugely popular Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and StarCraft gaming franchises, has been thrown into an uproar over workplace behavior issues. The upheaval stems from an explosive lawsuit that California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed on July 20, accusing the $65 billion company of fostering a “frat boy workplace culture” in which men joked about rape and women were routinely harassed and paid less than their male colleagues.
Activision publicly criticized the agency’s two-year investigation and allegations as “irresponsible behavior from unaccountable state bureaucrats.” But its dismissive tone angered employees, who called out the company for trying to sweep away what they said were heinous problems that had been ignored for too long.
Hollywood, restaurants and the media — the male-dominated video game sector has long stood out for its openly toxic behavior and lack of change. In 2014, feminist critics of the industry faced death threats in what became known as Gamergate. Executives at the gaming companies Riot Games and Ubisoft have also been accused of misconduct.
Now the actions at Activision may signal a new phase, where a critical mass of the industry’s own workers are indicating they will no longer tolerate such behavior.
“This could mean some real accountability for companies that aren’t taking care of their workers and are creating inequitable work environments where women and gender minorities are kept at the margins and abused,” said Carly Kocurek, an associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology who studies gender in gaming.
She said California’s lawsuit and the fallout at Activision were a “big deal” for an industry that had traditionally shrugged off claims of sexism and harassment. Other gaming companies are most likely watching the situation, she added, and considering whether they need to address their own cultures.
spared little detail. Many of the misconduct accusations focused on a division called Blizzard, which the company merged with through a deal with Vivendi Games in 2008.
The lawsuit accused Activision of being a “a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” Employees engaged in “cube crawls” in which they got drunk and acted inappropriately toward women at work cubicles, the lawsuit said.
In one case, a female employee died by suicide during a business trip because of the sexual relationship she had been having with her male supervisor, the lawsuit said. Before her death, male colleagues had shared an explicit photo of the woman, according to the lawsuit.
Employees reacted furiously. An open letter addressed to Activision’s leaders calling for them to take the accusations more seriously and “demonstrate compassion” for victims attracted more than 3,000 signatures from current and former employees by Wednesday. The company has nearly 10,000 employees.
“We no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests,” the letter said, calling Ms. Townsend’s remarks “unacceptable.”
a $155 million pay package that makes him one of the country’s highest-paid executives, added that the company would beef up the team that investigated reported misconduct, fire managers who were found to have impeded investigations and remove in-game content that had been flagged as inappropriate.
Employees said it was not enough.
“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point,” organizers of the walkout said in a public statement. They declined to be identified out of fear of reprisal.
The Olympics have long been an almost ideal forum for companies looking to promote themselves, with plenty of opportunities for brands to nestle ads among the pageantry and feel-good stories about athletes overcoming adversity — all for less than the price of a Super Bowl commercial.
But now, as roughly 11,000 competitors from more than 200 countries convene in Tokyo as the coronavirus pandemic lingers, Olympic advertisers are feeling anxious about the more than $1 billion they have spent to run ads on NBC and its Peacock streaming platform.
Calls to cancel the more than $15.4 billion extravaganza have intensified as more athletes test positive for Covid-19. The event is also deeply unpopular with Japanese citizens and many public health experts, who fear a superspreader event. And there will be no spectators in the stands.
“The Olympics are already damaged goods,” said Jules Boykoff, a former Olympic soccer player and an expert in sports politics at Pacific University. “If this situation in Japan goes south fast, then we could see some whipsaw changes in the way that deals are cut and the willingness of multinational companies to get involved.”
blow to the Games on Monday when it said it had abandoned its plans to run Olympics-themed television commercials in Japan.
In the United States, marketing plans are mostly moving ahead.
For NBCUniversal, which has paid billions of dollars for the exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics in the United States through 2032, the event is a crucial source of revenue. There are more than 140 sponsors for NBC’s coverage on television, on its year-old streaming platform Peacock and online, an increase over the 100 that signed on for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Not being there with an audience of this size and scale for some of our blue-chip advertisers is not an option,” said Jeremy Carey, the managing director of the sports marketing agency Optimum Sports.
Michelob Ultra commercial, the sprinting star Usain Bolt points joggers toward a bar. Procter & Gamble’s campaign highlights good deeds by athletes and their parents. Sue Bird, a basketball star, promotes the fitness equipment maker Tonal in a spot debuting Friday.
campaign featuring profiles of Olympic athletes.
“We do think people will continue to tune in, even without fans, as they did for all kinds of other sports,” Mr. Brandt said. “It’s going to be a diminishing factor in terms of the excitement, but we also hope that the Olympics are a bit of a unifier at a time when the country can seem to be so divided every day.”
NBCUniversal said it had exceeded the $1.2 billion in U.S. ad revenue it garnered for the 2016 Games in Rio and had sold all of its advertising slots for Friday’s opening ceremony, adding that it was still offering space during the rest of the Games. Buyers estimate that the price for a 30-second prime-time commercial exceeds $1 million.
Television has attracted the bulk of the ad spending, but the amount brought in by digital and streaming ads is on the rise, according to Kantar. Several forecasts predict that TV ratings for the Olympics will lag the Games in Rio and London, while the streaming audience will grow sharply.
NBCUniversal said that during the so-called upfront negotiation sessions this year, when ad buyers reserve spots with media companies, Peacock had received $500 million in commitments for the coming year.
“You won’t find a single legacy media company out there that is not pushing their streaming capabilities for their biggest events,” Mr. Carey, the Optimum Sports executive, said. “That’s the future of where this business is going.”
United Airlines, a sponsor of Team U.S.A., scrapped its original ad campaign, one that promoted flights from the United States to Tokyo. Its new effort, featuring the gymnast Simon Biles and the surfer Kolohe Andino, encourages a broader return to air travel.
showcasing skateboarders. “People are quite fragile at the moment. Advertisers don’t want to be too saccharine or too clever but are trying to find that right tone.”
Many companies advertising during the Games are running campaigns that they had to redesign from scratch after the Olympics were postponed last year.
“We planned it twice,” said Mr. Carey of Optimum Sports. “Think about how much the world has changed in that one year, and think about how much each of our brands have changed what they want to be out there saying or doing or sponsoring. So we crumpled it up, and we started over again.”
FIFA World Cup in Qatar in late 2022 and the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, both of which have put the advertising industry in a difficult position because of China’s and Qatar’s poor records on human rights.
First, though, ad executives just want the Tokyo Games to proceed without incident.
“We’ve been dealing with these Covid updates every day since last March,” said Kevin Collins, an executive at the ad-buying and media intelligence firm Magna. “I’m looking forward to them starting.”
Mr. Buser declined to comment on February’s changes.
Amazon also unveiled a cloud service, Luna, in September. It is so far available only to invitees, who pay $6 a month to play the 85 games on the platform. The games can be streamed from the cloud to phones, computers and Amazon’s Fire TV.
Like Google, Amazon has struggled to assemble a vast library of appealing games, though it does offer games from the French publisher Ubisoft for an added fee. Amazon has also had trouble developing its own games, which Mr. van Dreunen said showed that the creative artistry necessary to make enticing games was at odds with the more corporate style of the tech giants.
“They may have an interesting technological solution, but it totally lacks personality,” he said.
Amazon said it remained dedicated to game development: It opened a game studio in Montreal in March and, after a long delay, is releasing a game called New World this summer.
Even console makers have jumped into cloud gaming. Microsoft, which makes the Xbox console, released a cloud offering, xCloud or Xbox Cloud Gaming, last fall. For a $15 monthly subscription, users can play more than 200 games on various devices.
Sony also has a cloud gaming service, PlayStation Now, where games can be streamed to PlayStation consoles and computers.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in an interview last month that he did not think it was possible to be a gaming company “with any level of big ambition” without cloud gaming. Sony declined to comment.
Other companies have waded in, too. Nvidia, the chip maker that produces gaming hardware, has a $10-a-month cloud program, GeForce Now.
TOKYO — Kurumi Mochizuki is the kind of skilled soccer player who can roll a ball from between her shoulder blades to the top of her head and onto her right foot, keeping it aloft for more than a dozen kicks. She makes it look so easy.
Yet when she practices with her local club team in southeastern Tokyo, her coaches sometimes advise her to take longer breaks than her teammates, and warn her not to pick up heavy bags of balls when clearing equipment from the field.
All because she is a girl.
Kurumi, 13, is the only girl on her team. She plays with boys because there are no girls’ club teams near her neighborhood andno girls’ team at her middle school. Finding a team in high school will be difficult, too. Only one of the 14 schools in Kurumi’s area offers a girls’ team. Her older brother, who plays soccer at his high school, has had no such trouble — almost all the high schools in the district have boys’ soccer teams.
Tokyo Olympics, which open next month, offer an opportunity to anoint another crop of champions to inspire girls with athletic aspirations. But after the Olympic spotlight dims, those like Kurumi will still face powerful obstacles.
Japan has no law like Title IX, the American statute that requires schools receiving public funding to offer equal opportunities to boys and girls, and there is no public data on how much schools spend on extracurricular sports or how it breaks down on gender lines.
Female athletes who persevere often have to push past stereotypes that they are doing something unladylike, jeopardizing their chances of attracting boys and later becoming wives and mothers. Even their coaches view their participation through this lens, in some cases giving them etiquette lessons to ensure they are ready for domestic life.
2011 Women’s World Cup and claimed the silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012.
She followed her brother into soccer when she was 6. “When I was little, I never thought about it,” she said of being the sole girl on her team. “But once I got a bit older, I was much more aware of it.”
The extracurricular soccer team at her public middle school is technically coed, although not one of the team’s 40 players is a girl. Kurumi decided to stick to the club team she had played with since elementary school rather than try to break into a new group at school.
“There is a difference in strength and aggressiveness between boys and girls,” said Shigeki Komatsu, the middle school’s vice principal, standing on the sidelines as the boys scrimmaged on a gravel pitch, their cleats kicking up puffs of dust.
hopes that the situation would improve for female athletes in Japan.
Before that victory, girls in the United States had flocked to suburban soccer clubs after the U.S. women won the World Cup on American soil in 1999.
Koshien, that is more than 100 years old. Just after New Year’s, huge audiences tune in to watch the Hakone Ekiden, a college-level marathon relay that is restricted to male runners.
There are few vocal advocates for female athletes, and most of their coaches are men who often do not provide support for the physical changes that girls undergo in adolescence.
Hanae Ito, a swimmer who represented Japan at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, said coaches along the way had told her she was “mentally weak” when she gained weight or suffered menstruation-related mood changes as a teenage athlete.
“I thought it was a problem with me or that it was my fault,” she said. “But I think that this all ties back to Japan being a patriarchal society. Even women’s sports is seen from a male gaze.”
The idea that female athletes need to worry about their future prospects with men is deeply rooted.
After Hideko Maehata, an Olympic swimmer, became the first woman to win a gold medal for Japan, The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, heralded her victory at the 1936 Berlin Summer Games with the headline: “Next Up Is Marriage.”
Such attitudes persist today. Yuki Suzuki, who played in Japan’s Nadeshiko women’s professional soccer league and taught the sport until she gave birth to her son, is frustrated by the rigid gender definitions.
“Girls are often told ‘be feminine, be feminine,’” said Ms. Suzuki, now 34. “I think we have to change the fundamental culture of Japan when it comes to women.”
Even when girls get the chance to play, a bias toward boys emerges in small ways. At the middle school Kurumi attends, the boys’ volleyball and basketball teams get the gym three days a week for practice, while the girls use it the other two days.
Kurumi said she tried not to worry about the unequal treatment. She does not hold it against her coaches, she said, for barring her from carrying heavy equipment during practice.
“I am sure the coaches just care about me,” she said. “But personally, I know I could carry it.”
BOGNOR REGIS, England — Little has changed in the 40 years that Jean Sheppard has been calling numbers at Crown Bingo here in the heart of Bognor Regis, one of Britain’s oldest seaside resort towns, about 60 miles south of London. The regulars still line up before the doors open at 11 a.m., hoping to nab their upholstered seat of choice in a converted cinema built in the ’30s.
When the games begin, there are no distractions.
“We had an elderly lady here once whose family came to tell her that her husband had passed away,” Ms. Sheppard recalled recently. “And this woman said, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do for him now,’ and kept right on playing.”
The other constant over the years is the decline of Bognor Regis. Like most of the country’s seaside resorts, the town’s heyday in the ’50s and ’60s is the stuff of dim memories. Bognor and its many rival destinations — Brighton, Hastings, Margate, Skegness, Blackpool and others — once thronged with summer travelers who packed the beaches, seafood shacks and amusement arcades in search of a good time and, for those lucky enough to encounter a cloudless sky, a tan.
Then in the 1970s came the rise of cheap jet travel and overseas package tours. For the same price as a trip here, a family could fly to the beaches of Spain, where blazing sunshine was essentially guaranteed. The resort towns of Britain went into an economic free fall from which they have never recovered.
“Pubs have shut down, theaters have shut down, lots of buildings were knocked down,” said Ms. Sheppard, speaking after her shift on Sunday evening. “There’s been talk about regeneration for years, but nobody seems to know how to do it.”
Now, the limitations imposed by the pandemic are succeeding where all else has failed — at least for the moment. Government-imposed air travel restrictions and warnings have curbed the national appetite for overseas trips. Brits are still allowed to fly to Spain, and elsewhere in Europe, but unless you’re heading to Gibraltar — where infection rates are low — you must quarantine for 10 days after returning home and pay for two Covid-19 tests.
This past week, the British health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the policy would soon be revisited and liberalized. That good news was offset by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron of France, who on Thursday urged all countries in the European Union to require British travelers to quarantine upon arrival.
So towns like Bognor Regis are getting a second look. There were more than 180 new players last week at Crown Bingo, said Jenny Barrett, the assistant manager. And for the first time in decades, hotels here are reporting occupancy rates well above 90 percent.
“This weekend we’re at 95 percent,” said André Gonçalves, a manager at the Beachcroft Hotel. “And our prices are up about 20 to 30 percent.”
The owner of the mini golf course right next to the beach-side promenade, Paul Tiernan, is relishing the payoff from a renovation during the height of the pandemic. He refurbished and cleaned the whole course, in part because during lockdown there was nothing else to do. Lately, on weekends there has been a waiting line that extends around the corner and down the street.
“British seasides are having a massive renaissance, everywhere you go,” he said. “Everyone is just filling their boots.”
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Mr. Tiernan sat in a chair near the edge of the first hole of his course, directly in the line of fire of any overzealous putters. He moved to Bognor Regis 50 years ago, as a child, which makes him just old enough to have glimpsed the last vestiges of the town’s halcyon days.
“There was a pier over there,” he said, pointing across the street. “Honest to God, it was beautiful. Right at the end there was a pavilion. And there was a theater there.”
Today, the pier is short and looks hazardous. Across a different street stands an empty lot with nothing but debris from a building that burned down four years ago under what Mr. Tiernan called dubious circumstances.
It’s all a long slide from the days when Bognor was prestigious enough to serve as a place for King George V, Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, to convalesce after lung surgery in 1929. The royal connection was memorialized when “Regis,” Latin for “of the King,” was added to the town’s name. But its most famous link to the monarchy is the story — surely as false as it is amusing — that his last words were an alliterative, impolite put-down of Bognor, uttered after aides suggested that he’d soon be well enough to return. (Polite version: “I don’t want to go to Bognor.”)
James Joyce left behind kinder impressions after a stay here in 1923. “The weather is very fine and the country here restful,” he wrote to a patron. Joyce scholars believe he picked up the improbable name of the lead character of “Finnegans Wake,” Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, from a nearby cemetery.
The flow of out-of-towners picked up when entrepreneur Billy Butlin opened his second Butlin’s Holiday Camp here in 1960, bringing his vision of a family vacation, filled with vigorous activities and all-inclusive buffets, to the south of the country. Today, the Butlin’s here is one of only three originals still in operation, and it is curiously walled off from the rest of town. A fence stands between the ocean and the Butlin’s campus, which features a gleaming, massive structure that looks like a circus tent from the future.
The logic of a beachside holiday camp with little access to the beach, designed around indoor amusements, seems baffling. Until it starts raining, which it did often last weekend. Bognor boasts that it’s the sunniest place in the United Kingdom, a title claimed by other towns as well. Even when it’s sunny, though, the beach here is not exactly inviting. It’s made of small stones, which are comfortable to lay atop only if you bring a futon.
The water rarely gets much above 60 degrees, a temperature described by the National Center for Cold Water Safety as “very dangerous.”
“We all have wet suits,” said Sara Poffenberger, a Brit who was toweling off with her son and grandson. “But lots of British people will swim without wet suits and tell you the water is boiling.”
The beaches here helped Bognor Regis earn the title of worst U.K. seaside resort in a 2019 survey of 3,000 holidaymakers. Bognor and the fellow bottom dweller Clacton-on-Sea received low ratings for their “attractions, scenery, peace and quiet and value for the money,” the publication found.
Reviews like this explain why even optimists believe Bognor’s boomlet is unlikely to last. Business owners here understand that they are banking the upsides of what could most charitably be described as exceptional circumstances. Someday soon, normal will return.
“Next year, every man and his dog will go abroad,” Mr. Tiernan said, sitting at his mini golf course. “But next year is next year, so I’m enjoying the moment.”