Manchester United scrap plans for Qatar winter training camp amid regional tensions

Manchester United will not travel to the Gulf for a training camp next month due to security concerns amid tensions in the region, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer revealed this week. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 January 2020

Manchester United scrap plans for Qatar winter training camp amid regional tensions

  • Last January and November, United squad trained in Dubai
  • Earlier this month, the US men’s soccer team also canceled plans to train in Doha

LONDON: Manchester United will not travel to the Gulf for a training camp next month due to security concerns amid tensions in the region.

The Reds had not yet chosen a final destination but club officials were said to be strongly considering Qatar as the location for the winter break camp.

United are without a game for 16 days between Feb. 1 when they play Wolves in the Premier League and Feb. 17 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

United have trained at the Aspire Academy in Qatar’s capital Doha in the past during previous winter training camps, last in 2013 toward the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s spell in charge.

Last January, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his squad trained in Dubai and some of his players not on international duty trained there in November during an international break.

Solskjaer told UK media that he has decided to take the United players to either Spain or Portugal instead.

When asked if United’s plans had changed, Solskjaer said: “Yes, there are things that worry me more than football.

“We were looking at the Middle East but that is definitely not going to happen. We will stay in Europe,” he added.

Tensions in the Gulf have been raised by the US killing of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani in an air strike near Baghdad airport and the unintentional downing by Iranian forces of a Ukrainian International Airlines in Tehran, killing all 176 passengers on board.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued travel advice for Qatar this month, saying tourists should “remain vigilant” amid a “heightened threat of terrorist attacks globally against UK interests and British nationals.”

Earlier this month, the US men’s soccer team also canceled plans to train in Doha throughout January “due to the developing situation in the region,” according to a. US Soccer Federation statement.


Vuelta hopes to emulate Tour success with zero infections

Updated 20 October 2020

Vuelta hopes to emulate Tour success with zero infections

  • The Vuelta is getting under way before the Giro finishes next weekend

BARCELONA: The Spanish Vuelta cycling race starts on Tuesday amid tight health restrictions in the hopes of avoiding the coronavirus infections that have knocked some riders, including top contenders, out of the Giro d’Italia.

Primoz Roglic is back to defend his title weeks after he lost the Tour de France on the final competitive stage. Two-time champion Chris Froome will be his main challenger in his final grand tour for Ineos, formerly Team Sky, before he joins Israel Start-Up Nation next season. Thibaut Pinot, Alejandro Valverde and Johan Esteban Chaves are also among the contenders.

Despite the strong lineup, most of the focus will be on the success of the Vuelta’s health protocols.

The Vuelta is getting under way before the Giro finishes next weekend. The two grand tours, like the Tour de France, were postponed because of the pandemic, and the tight calendar forced the Vuelta and Giro to overlap.

The Tour finished without any infections except for race director Christian Prudhomme. The Giro, however, has lost two full teams to the virus. Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma withdrew from the Italian race last week following a series of positive results from the first rest day. Overall contenders Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk were among those who tested positive.

With Spain struggling to contain its own resurgence in cases, Giro director Mauro Vegni said last week “seeing the numbers in Spain, I would be very worried for the Vuelta if I was in (race director) Javier Guillen’s shoes.”

Guillen has tried to reassure the Vuelta participants and staff that the race can be held in safe conditions, following the example of the Tour. Both the Tour and the Vuelta are run by the same company.

“We have worked together on the protocols and exchanged information during the Tour,” Guillen told Spanish sports daily Mundo Deportivo. “The measures taken during the Tour worked to stop COVID-19 and allowed the race to start and finish. I don’t have any information from the Giro.”

All riders and staff for the teams and the race underwent tests on Sunday, with only two staff members testing positive — one from Bahrain-McLaren and another from Team Sunweb. Organizers said 498 tests were conducted, and more would be performed on Monday.

The Vuelta will follow the same procedure as the Tour of repeating the tests on the race’s two rest days.

One difference from the Tour is that at the Vuelta a team will be asked to leave the race if two riders test positive, as opposed to two team members, including staff, at the Tour.

The Vuelta has taken several steps that it hopes will keep the riders healthy and the race going until it reaches Madrid.

The public is encouraged not to gather at finish lines, and organizers will cut off access to the mountain passes that are popular gathering spots for fans to cheer the riders on the grueling ascents. The race is sending the message out on social media asking its fans to stay at home and watch the race from television this year.