Baseball in full swing in Taiwan, even in empty stadiums

Baseball in full swing in Taiwan, even in empty stadiums
This April 24, 2020, photo, shows Chinatrust Brothers players during a game against Fubon Guardians with no audience at Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium in New Taipei City, Taiwan. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
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Updated 25 April 2020

Baseball in full swing in Taiwan, even in empty stadiums

Baseball in full swing in Taiwan, even in empty stadiums
  • Taiwan has relatively few cases of COVID-19
  • But the Chinese Professional Baseball League is barring spectators

NEW TAIPEI CITY, Taiwan: When Wang Wei-chen had a base hit for the Chinatrust Brothers, no one booed or cheered from the stands at the suburban Taipei ballpark. No one hurled insults at the umpires. And no one yelled the Chinese-language line of encouragement “add oil” to either team.
The 12,150 blue plastic seats were devoid of fans Friday night for the game between Chinatrust Brothers and Fubon Guardians, down from the average crowd of 6,000 at professional baseball games in Taiwan. No fans have come to any games here since play started on April 11.
Taiwan’s five-team Chinese Professional Baseball League is barring spectators over concerns of spreading the coronavirus in a crowded space. But Taiwan has relatively few cases of COVID-19, so the league decided it was safe to let in players, coaches, cheerleaders, costumed mascots, face mask-wearing batboys and the media.
“We’d like to have fans coming into the stadium to cheer us on, yet due to the outbreak they can’t,” said Wang, an infielder for Brothers. “We are still lucky, since we have not stopped our season and people can still see us in this way.”
Other baseball leagues around the world have been postponed to May or later. Beyond baseball, organized sports worldwide have canceled or delayed competition. The Tokyo Olympics have been pushed back a year.
At the Taiwan ballpark, about 150 placards were placed upright on the seats. They wished luck to particular players from the Guardians home team, some with cut-out effigies, and thanked Taiwan’s medical personnel for keeping coronavirus caseloads low on the Western Pacific island.
Rock and roll sounds blasted out of the bleachers as if in a normal game, and players did some cheering for their teammates to replace the din of fans.
“I think it feels like a real game,” said Mac Huang, a longtime baseball fan and middle school teacher in Taipei who is following the league now online. Fan-less games, he said, are “a good way to stop coronavirus, but no one knows when coronavirus will stop, and it’s good to have the games on anyway.”
League officials delayed the season twice from its originally scheduled opening day on March 14, and only started competition after close consultation with the Ministry of Health and Welfare. They’re ready to allow all 240 regular games in empty parks through the season’s end in mid-November, if needed.
Taiwan has had just 428 coronavirus cases among a population of 23 million. Bars, restaurants, shops and schools still run normally. Taiwan has limited the spread by imposing flight restrictions and through contact tracing of anyone who comes near a confirmed patient.
“We have to be grateful to Taiwan’s citizens for keeping the outbreak under control and let us do this,” league commissioner Wu Chih-yang said.
To keep fans watching on their phones, PCs and TVs, the league is encouraging teams to give their stadiums a realistic, lively feel. That’s where the placards and cheerleaders come in. Online game commentary is being broadcast in English as well as Chinese this year in case fans overseas want to watch a live season.
“Because there is so much room up there in the stands, it leaves space for creativity and each team can be creative as it wishes,” the commissioner said.
Teams are still making some money from broadcast games, he added. The league charges a subscription fee for online viewers.
In Taiwan’s Taoyuan city, the unbeaten Rakuten Monkeys are charming fans by placing 40 mannequins in the stands — to be sent to local clothing stores once their duties are done. Stadium seats support four long LED-lit display boards that twinkle with slogans to inspire base hits and home runs.
The Monkeys, last season’s champions, deploy six robots to bang drums along with the cheerleaders. Fans are excited enough that about 50 of them have sponsored the LED boards, cheer squad leader Eric Chiu said.
A Monkeys game on April 15 attracted about 650,000 viewers in different countries, according to the Taiwan government-backed Central News Agency.
“They think what we’re doing now is OK, but we still hope this outbreak passes soon,” Chiu said. “It’s better to have the fans back.”
Guardians manager Hong I-chung is less sure.
“If you ask the players, they won’t find it so different actually,” Hong told reporters before Friday’s game. “They need to focus on the field, and often noise from fans can throw off their state of mind.”
He particularly noted the impact of players being “scolded” by comments from fans in the stands.
Other people on the field Friday said they were ready to play as usual. Pre-game chatter with reporters focused more on hitting, pitching and lineups than on the lack of fans or Taiwan baseball’s world outlier status. The Brothers won 11-0.
“The fact that were playing in front of empty seats, that’s fine, we’re still playing the game, getting the opportunity to come out here and play,” said Rob Ducey, a former Major League Baseball outfielder who is now a hitting coach for the Guardians.


Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani
Updated 04 August 2021

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

DUBAI: Two female judokas, one mat, one Olympic contest. That the two athletes competing, Tahani Al-Qahtani and Raz Hershko, happened to be from Saudi Arabia and Israel, made the recent first round of the women’s judo 78-kilogram-class meeting at Tokyo 2020 more than just an ordinary bout.

The two countries have no formal relations and no history of sporting competition to speak of. Furthermore, regional politics and boycotts movements have made it a norm that Arab athletes refuse to take part in any match opposite an Israeli counterpart in fear that this might be interpreted as a form of recognition.

This is why, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, Israeli judoka Hershko had made it a point to praise the bravery of Al-Qahtani. Not only did the Saudi judoka defy popular calls by hatemongers to boycott the match, but she participated knowing very well that Hershko has far more international experience and was clearly the likely winner.

The 23-year-old Israeli said: “I think it is amazing that we both put politics aside to do something we love. I was super excited that anything can happen at the Olympics.

“I knew it was rare for an (Arab) to accept to fight like this, but I was so excited when she accepted. Both of us put politics to the side and did what we loved together in the match.”

Algerian Fethi Nourine and Sudan’s Mohammed Abdalrasool had withdrawn from the judo men’s plus-73-kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete. But Al-Qahtani chose to compete against Hershko, a decision that drew praise from Japanese media and prompted a wave of support from high-profile figures and sports fans in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qahtani was the last of the Kingdom’s 33 athletes to confirm her place at Tokyo 2020, her wild card selection making her only the second female judoka from the country to participate in the Olympics since the 2012 London Games. The two women had walked out side-by-side onto the mat ahead of what turned out to be a tough match for the inexperienced 22-year-old Saudi. As the fight progressed, Hershko racked up the points, eventually beating Al-Qahtani 11-0.

“It was a tough fight in the beginning. She (Al-Qahtani) was brave to take on the fight despite pressure from hatemongers about her decision to fight me,” Hershko added. The victor pointed out that she and Al-Qahtani were simply human beings, females from different countries, playing in a match. “I don’t think it was different from fighting someone from the US or South Africa. It was great that Al-Qahtani bravely accepted and let politics stay out of the picture.”

After Al-Qahtani’s loss, some questioned whether the pressure of the situation had affected her performance.

While Al-Qahtani was not available for comment, Hershko noted the importance of the match and how sport could be a uniting force at a time when politics in the Middle East continued to be a hot topic, even after several countries had normalized relations with Israel.

“Politics has nothing to do with it, it was a good match,” said Hershko.

In a statement after the bout, the International Judo Federation said: “This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”

Al-Qahtani’s courageous performance on and off the judo mat demonstrated a notable shift in Saudi Arabia, and an openness to rise above current geopolitics in the realm of sports and culture, both avenues that could bring people from opposing nations together.

On whether she would accept an invitation to compete in Saudi Arabia, Hershko said: “Of course, why not?”


Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
Updated 04 August 2021

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
  • Duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan are now on a five-match winning streak ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Russian Olympic Committee team

TOKYO: Qatar has reached the Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball men’s semifinal after beating Italy in straight sets at Shiokaze Park on Wednesday evening.
The Qatari duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan put on an impressive display to defeat the Italian team of Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo 2-0 (21-17, 23-21) in the quarterfinal.
The Qatari athletes, both 26, will now take on Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on Thursday afternoon (from 4pm KSA).
On Sunday, Younousse and Tijan defeated the US 2-1 (14-21, 21-19,15-11) in the round of 16 to reach today’s last-eight match.
Qatar’s beach volleyball team is now on a five-match winning streak at Tokyo 2020.
The started their Olympic campaign on July 25 by beating Switzerland 2-1 (21-17, 21-16) in their preliminary round — Group C match.
They followed that up with two more group victories; a 2-1 win over Italy three days later, and a 2-0 against the US last Friday.


Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
Updated 04 August 2021

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
  • Total score of 424 was enough to see 27-year-old finish behind Lasha Talakhadze, Ali Davoudi
  • Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition

RIYADH: Syrian weightlifter Man Asaad on Wednesday picked up an Olympic bronze medal in the men’s plus-109-kilogram competition at the Tokyo International Forum.

The 27-year-old posted a 190 in the snatch category and followed that with a clean and jerk best of 234, for a total of 424.

Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia won gold with a new Olympic and world record 488, while silver medal winner Ali Davoudi of Iran managed a score of 441.

Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition, while his best performance at an international tournament remains a silver in the 109kg at the 2020 Asian Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, when he managed to total 433.


Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final
Updated 04 August 2021

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final
  • In a strong field of 30, Mouda Zeyada and Nayel Nassar finished 19th and 24th

TOKYO: The Egyptian equestrian athletes Mouda Zeyada and Nayel Nassar failed in their quest for Olympic gold at the jumping individual final at Tokyo’s Equestrian Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Their times of 86.63 and 89.63 left Zeyada and Nassar in positions 19 and 24 respectively and out of contention for the medals.


In the jump-off to decide the winner after six competitors shared top spot, the gold medal eventually went to the British rider Ben Maher (37.85), the silver to the Swede Peder Fredricson (38.02), and bronze to Maikel van der Vleuten of the Netherlands (38.90)
On Tuesday, a near-faultless ride had seen 30-year-old Nassar progress to today’s final, where he was joined by 26-year-old compatriot Zeyada among the competition’s top 30 qualifiers.
Nassar in particular has been the center of attention since the weekend after Bill Gates, father of his wife Jennifer Katharine Gates, sent him a message of good luck on social media that went viral in the days before the start of the competition.


Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot
Updated 04 August 2021

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot
  • 3 riders will represent each team of Great Britain, Ireland, Ladies, Rest of the World
  • Dubai Duty Free CEO Colm McLoughlin: The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our horseracing sponsorship portfolio and one of Ascot’s most popular events

DUBAI: A star-studded field of jockeys will line up for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot this year with four new-look teams set to do battle in the 20th running of the event on Saturday.

Teams will comprise of three riders representing Great Britain, Ireland, Ladies, and Rest of the World contesting six valuable handicaps each worth £42,000 ($58,500).

Dubai Duty Free chief executive officer and executive vice president, Colm McLoughlin, said: “The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our horseracing sponsorship portfolio and one of Ascot’s most popular events.

“Unfortunately, the ongoing (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 travel restrictions will prevent us from being there in person this year, but we will be following all the action closely from Dubai as the day unfolds and we wish all the jockeys and the horses’ connections a great day.”

Great Britain will be captained by Adam Kirby, this year’s Epsom Derby winning jockey who will be making his second appearance in the competition. He will be joined by top international jockey James Doyle, and one of this year’s Royal Ascot-winning riders Cieren Fallon, best known for his association with high-class sprinter Oxted.

Doyle will be making his third appearance in the competition having ridden a winner on both previous occasions in 2012 and 2013. It will be Fallon’s Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup debut, but he will be looking to maintain a strong family tradition on the day after his father, Kieren, won the Alistair Haggis Silver Saddle in 2003 and was on the winning team in 2001 and 2002.

This year’s Ascot Gold Cup-winning jockey Joe Fanning will captain the Ireland team and he will have the help of rising-star David Egan who has enjoyed big-race success in Saudi Arabia and Dubai this season. The Ireland team is completed by Tadhg O’Shea, the most successful jockey of all-time in the UAE having ridden more than 600 winners and won the UAE jockeys’ championship for the ninth time this season.

A formidable Ladies team will be captained by Hayley Turner, the most successful jockey in the history of the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup with eight winners and 297 points from 13 appearances. Turner’s team will also feature globe-trotting sensation Mickaelle Michel from France and Scotland’s Nicola Currie.

Sean Levey will lead the Rest of the World team and the Swaziland-born Classic-winning jockey will be joined by Kevin Stott who became the first Dane to win a British Group 1 when victory in last year’s Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot initiated a memorable double on the day. Subject to being released by his retainer, three-time champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa, who has one previous Shergar Cup appearance in 2016, will complete the Rest of the World team.

Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at Ascot Racecourse, said: “We’re thrilled with the jockey lineup for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup this year. Obviously COVID-19 has made international travel very difficult, so to pull together such a strong set of teams that still has a global feel is really pleasing.

“It should be a great day’s racing and another thrilling renewal of the competition which sadly didn’t take place last year, but we look forward to building the day back up in the years to come.”