No Salah as World Cup group phase in Africa finally kicks off

No Salah as World Cup group phase in Africa finally kicks off
Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah during the English Premier League match against Chelsea on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 31 August 2021

No Salah as World Cup group phase in Africa finally kicks off

No Salah as World Cup group phase in Africa finally kicks off

JOHANNESBURG: Liverpool star Mohamed Salah will be a notable absentee due to coronavirus travel restrictions when the group phase of qualifying in Africa for the 2022 World Cup finally kicks off on Wednesday.
Salah plays for Egypt, who are on the United Kingdom travel “red list,” and he would have to quarantine for 10 days when he returns from his homeland, sidelining him for four fixtures.
Both world body FIFA and African confederation CAF have pleaded, without success, for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to exempt African footballers on World Cup duty.
Stars in other European countries could also be affected as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc with an African group schedule that has already been delayed three times.
Here, AFP Sport looks at the 10 four-team groups and which countries may reach the final qualifying stage.
As if facing African champions Algeria, who are unbeaten in 27 matches since November 2018, was not sufficiently intimidating, rivals Burkina Faso, Niger and Djibouti are barred from playing at home.
All must use neutral venues because their stadium facilities and/or pitch does not meet international standards, making Riyad Mahrez-captained Algeria hot favourites to advance.
Wahbi Khazri-led Tunisia are among the most successful African countries when it comes to World Cup qualifying, reaching the finals five times.
They will face tough opposition on visits to resurgent Zambia, rising Mauritania and improving Equatorial Guinea, but it would be a shock if they did not finish first.
Although Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr is pleading caution, the German knows that failure to finish above Cape Verde, the Central African Republic and Liberia will trigger his dismissal.
Since missing out on the 2006 World Cup, the Super Eagles have reached every finals and Rohr has more than enough talent to maintain the successful streak.
Cameroon were grouped with Serge Aurier-captained Ivory Coast, the second seeds every coach wanted to avoid when the draw was made in Cairo more than two years ago.
Modest southern Africa sides Mozambique and Malawi complete a section that looks like a two-horse race between seven-time World Cup qualifiers Cameroon and three-time participants Ivory Coast.
Top seeds Mali and east African nations Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda make up the only group not containing a previous World Cup qualifier.


Chennai top of IPL after 6-wicket win against Bangalore

Chennai top of IPL after 6-wicket win against Bangalore
Updated 58 min 19 sec ago

Chennai top of IPL after 6-wicket win against Bangalore

Chennai top of IPL after 6-wicket win against Bangalore
  • Bangalore stays on 10 points in third place

SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates: Chennai Super Kings moved to the top of the Indian Premier League points table on Friday with a convincing six-wicket victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Chennai won a sandstorm-delayed toss and chose to field at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, restricting Bangalore to 156-6 despite a promising start for Virat Kohli’s team.
In reply, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai reached 157-4 in 18.1 overs.
Kohli hit a 41-ball 53 and shared an opening stand of 111 with Devdutt Padikkal (70 in 50). That partnership ended in the 14th over and no other Bangalore batter lasted more than 11 balls.
Padikkal said his team had been looking to reach 170-180 runs “but unfortunately it just didn’t work out today toward the end of the innings.”
West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo did much of the damage with 3-24 in his four overs, including the wicket of Kohli, who almost hit a six but instead was caught by Ravindra Jadeja on the boundary.
Ruturaj Gaikwad top-scored for Chennai with 38 off 26, ahead of opening partner Faf du Plessis (31) and Ambati Rayudu (32). Harshal Patel took 2-25.
Chennai is level on 14 points with Delhi Capitals after nine matches with Chennai having the better net run rate. Bangalore stays on 10 points in third place.


Japan’s leader says Olympics were ‘symbol of global unity’

Japan’s leader says Olympics were ‘symbol of global unity’
Updated 24 September 2021

Japan’s leader says Olympics were ‘symbol of global unity’

Japan’s leader says Olympics were ‘symbol of global unity’
  • “Tokyo 2020 Games proved to be a symbol of global unity among people around the world,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said
  • Suga and the International Olympic Committee ultimately decided the Games would go on with extremely strict virus safety protocols

UNITED NATIONS: At a UN General Assembly meeting packed with global gloom, Japan’s outgoing leader highlighted what he cast as a moment of inspiration: the Tokyo Olympics, controversially held in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
“While humanity has been faced with immeasurable hardships, the Tokyo 2020 Games proved to be a symbol of global unity among people around the world,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said as he began his speech Thursday.
After the Games were delayed from their original 2020 date because of the pandemic, Japan deliberated for months about whether to hold them at all. Suga and the International Olympic Committee ultimately decided the Games would go on with extremely strict virus safety protocols.
The requirements included multiple tests for all Olympic visitors before arrival and tests and soft quarantine upon arrival. Most events and venues were spectatorless, and travel was heavily regulated.
Still, many Japanese objected to holding the event at a time when the country’s virus outbreak was worsening. There were protests as the Games approached, but opposition softened after they began and residents got engaged in following — on TV — a competition that ended with a record 58 medals for Japan, including 27 gold.
Infections inside the so-called “Olympic bubble” ultimately were kept to a few hundred. But outside it, surging coronavirus cases produced several declarations of states of emergency around the country as the Games unfolded.
“While there were various views about holding the Games this summer, we, as the host country of the Games, fulfilled our responsibilities and achieved what we set out to do,” Suga said. He commended the athletes for giving “hopes and dreams to everyone across the globe.”
Suga is stepping down when his term ends at the conclusion of this month. He saw support for his government plunge because of his handling of the virus.
He has served only a year after taking over from predecessor Shinzo Abe.


German soccer clubs pushing to ease stadium restrictions

German soccer clubs pushing to ease stadium restrictions
Updated 24 September 2021

German soccer clubs pushing to ease stadium restrictions

German soccer clubs pushing to ease stadium restrictions
  • Most clubs are asking for fans to show they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus
  • State officials set fan limits of either 25,000 or 50% of stadium capacity, whichever is lower, for professional games

BERLIN: German soccer clubs are pushing for more fans to be allowed at Bundesliga games despite discrepancies in their approaches to getting them there.
Most clubs are asking for fans to show they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, recovered from COVID-19, or to produce a negative result from a test for the virus taken in the previous 24 hours before they are allowed in to see a game.
Some, like Borussia Dortmund, are just letting in vaccinated or recovered fans, with very few exceptions for those who are neither.
Dortmund’s stadium is the biggest in Germany with a capacity of 81,000 for Bundesliga games, but even with its strict admission policies, it is only allowed up to 25,000 spectators under rules agreed on by the country’s 16 states in July.
State officials set fan limits of either 25,000 or 50 percent of stadium capacity, whichever is lower, for professional games.
Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke believes his club’s tougher approach to restrictions means it should be allowed full capacity for matches.
“If the overwhelming majority of spectators are vaccinated and the children are tested, then I think soccer games in well-filled stadiums are a responsible risk,” Watzke told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
German health minister Jens Spahn said stadiums with the “2G” restrictions (vaccinated/recovered) should be able to safely accommodate more supporters than those that also allow tested fans.
The Hamburg senate agrees, deciding Tuesday to allow second-division club Hamburger SV a full stadium under the 2G rule to allow vaccinated or recovered supporters at games.
Sunday’s match against Nuremburg is too soon for the club to make the necessary arrangements, but city rival St. Pauli will likely have a full 29,546-capacity for Dynamo Dresden’s visit on Oct. 3.
The local health authority gave Eintracht Frankfurt the go-ahead for up to 31,000 vaccinated or recovered supporters at Saturday’s Bundesliga game against Cologne, though that’s also too soon for the club to organize.
However, Bundesliga rival Union Berlin said in a statement Tuesday that the 2G rule is “unworkable” because of a lack of alternatives for children under 12 and for people who cannot or don’t want to be vaccinated.
City rival Hertha Berlin and league leader Bayern Munich are among those also sticking to the “3G” solution, which also includes tested fans.
Union has been one of the most outspoken clubs against the coronavirus restrictions that largely kept fans away altogether last season, while its fans have been displaying banners this season calling for a return to full stadiums.
Some clubs like Hertha and Dortmund have threatened legal action if they are not allowed more supporters at games, particularly with 2G restrictions in place.
Others are worried that fans have been getting used to watching games on TV and are reluctant to return to stadiums. Hoffenheim, which can accommodate up to 15,000 supporters in its stadium, only had 8,014 present for its game against Union, and 8,427 for Mainz’ visit.
Hertha and Greuther Fürth have also had unsold tickets.
Fürth coach Stefan Leitl said there was currently an “insecurity” among fans, and Hoffenheim coach Sebastian Hoeneß predicted it will take some time for supporters to return, even when the rules are relaxed and restrictions lifted.


Saudi Arabia to host opening round of 2022 Extreme E season

Saudi Arabia to host opening round of 2022 Extreme E season
Updated 24 September 2021

Saudi Arabia to host opening round of 2022 Extreme E season

Saudi Arabia to host opening round of 2022 Extreme E season
  • In April, AlUla became first ever location to hold race in electric SUV series

RIYADH: The Saudi desert of AlUla is set to host the opening race of the second season of Extreme E, the provisional list of venues for 2022 has revealed.

In April, AlUla hosted the first ever event — Desert X Prix — in the electric car series, which takes place in off-road locations as part of its mission to drive awareness of climate change issues, such as global warming, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, wildfires, extreme weather, and desertification, while promoting sustainability and the adoption of electric vehicles to help protect the planet.

Founder and chief executive officer of Extreme E, Alejandro Agag, said: “We’ve had a hugely positive response to Extreme E throughout this opening season, from governments to NGOs, who see great potential, not only for utilizing our purpose-driven sports platform to educate on climate issues, but also to showcase the solutions that they and the wider global community can all be part of.

“As we approach the tail end of our first season, we wanted to be transparent about how our second season is shaping up in order to help enable our teams, drivers, and partners to prepare.

“We’ve had lots of interest, both in retaining events in locations we’ve visited in season one, and from new locations, and we are currently at a stage where we have multiple options for some of our races.

“As an engaged championship which aims to put fans at the heart of decision making, we are also keen to hear input and opinions on where we should go in future seasons too,” he added.

Former Royal Mail ship, the St. Helena, provides the championship’s floating centerpiece, carrying the series’ vehicles, logistics equipment, and paddock infrastructure as well as playing host to scientific research with its onboard laboratory, all in a bid to lower the impact of the travel logistics compared to air travel.

Head-to-head races, known as an X Prix, take place over two days, within an area no larger than 10 square kilometers, with each team fielding a male and a female driver who each complete a lap of the racecourse, including a driver switch incorporated midway.

Course designers have been tasked with carefully selecting course options which provide the most challenging, exciting action, using existing obstacles and features with elevation changes and jumps, in order to minimize environmental impact.

Race organizers undertake thorough environmental, social, and economic assessments of each location with a local third party, overseen by EY, in order to safeguard environmental protection, social inclusivity, and fair practices. These reports have influenced the way Extreme E operates from water consumption, waste management, and on-site lighting through to land management and ensuring the series leaves without a trace after the X Prix has finished.

Additionally, in each location, Extreme E works alongside local experts, governments, and NGOs to implement positive legacy initiatives dependent on regional needs.

Examples of legacy programs in the first season included the funding of a turtle conservation project along the Red Sea coastline, the planting of 1 million mangroves with NGO TO.org and Oceanium in Senegal, cocoa agroforestry and Amazon conservation with The Nature Conservancy in the Brazilian state of Para, and the creation with UNICEF of a climate education syllabus for more than 3,500 schoolchildren in Greenland.

Prof. Carlos Duarte, Extreme E’s climate change scientist, said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of Extreme E this year and very much look forward to continuing our good work into season two.

“The legacy and scientific aspects are a true cornerstone to the series and already this year I’ve been able to conduct research in Saudi Arabia and collect ice samples from the Russell Glacier (in Greenland) with Extreme E.

“This championship gives me and my peers the opportunity to reach people outside of our usual networks, it gives us a voice to reach the masses and educate on climate issues and the solutions we can all be a part of,” he added.

As well as providing a platform for climate awareness, Extreme E has had a positive economic impact on host countries. YouGov Sport, the international research and data analytics organization, calculated the series’ inaugural event in Saudi Arabia contributed more than $55 million local value. These figures included the employment of local personnel, logistics, transportation to and from the race site, as well as local food and beverage provision, and hotel nights.

The overall media exposure of the Desert X Prix was in itself a significant factor in the overall economic impact. Extreme E’s 190 global broadcast markets audience reach of 18.7 million, along with its strong media presence, resulted in an unprecedented media value of almost $38 million for the championship.

Extreme E has already surpassed its social media targets for the end of season one, hitting 100 million video views, a 400 percent increase in engagement, plus more than 1 billion impressions across its digital landscape at each of its two opening X Prix events.

Provisional Extreme E Season 2 calendar (2022):

Feb. 19-20: Saudi Arabia

May 7-8: Senegal/Egypt/Tanzania

July 9-10: Greenland/Iceland

Sept. 10-11: Brazil/Argentina/Uruguay/Italy/Costa Rica  

Nov. 26-27: Chile


Golf Saudi relaunches Dirab Golf & Country Club on 91st Saudi National Day

Golf Saudi relaunches Dirab Golf & Country Club on 91st Saudi National Day
Updated 24 September 2021

Golf Saudi relaunches Dirab Golf & Country Club on 91st Saudi National Day

Golf Saudi relaunches Dirab Golf & Country Club on 91st Saudi National Day
  • Club has undergone extensive improvements, now reopened to public

RIYADH: Following its acquisition of Dirab Golf and Country Club, Golf Saudi has now reopened the course and clubhouse to the public following an extensive redevelopment program.

Situated in the heart of the Kingdom’s capital, the club earlier this year carried out a series of improvements across the entire site including facility enhancement, landscaping, agronomy, the implementation of associate training programs, guest management, and general course renovation.

Deputy chairman of the Saudi Golf Federation and chief executive officer of Golf Saudi, Majed Al-Sorour, said: “This is an exciting phase in the course and club’s history. Golf Saudi is delighted to formally reopen Dirab Golf and Country Club following a series of wall-to-wall improvements across the entire club.

“Our hope is to enhance and grow the game of golf in the Kingdom and encourage Saudis to pick up a club for the first time and give golf a go but also unlock employment opportunities within the wider golf industry.

“Golf is a game for everyone and as part of Vision 2030, this is just one of the steps Golf Saudi has undertaken to ensure that golf is accessible to all,” he added.

Dirab Golf and Country Club was the first grassed 18-hole Par 72 Championship course built in Saudi Arabia. Located 45 kilometers southwest of Riyadh and nestled in the picturesque Tawfiq valley, the club features tree-lined fairways and manicured greens.

The reopening celebrations coincided with the 91st Saudi National Day on Sept. 23, with the club organizing activities for golfers, children, and families. As part of Golf Saudi’s Mass Participation program, there were also opportunities for visitors of all ages to try golf through a series of fun events, including The Stadium Concept, and SNAG. Saudi heritage was also celebrated with a traditional food tent and Najdi folk dancing.

A series of events has been planned by the club to engage with local culture and the Saudi public, as part of its long-term aim to become a destination for local golf fans.

Al-Sorour said: “Through making these improvements, we hope that Dirab Golf and Country Club will become the capital’s go-to golf course.

“I have no doubt that it will become one of the best golf courses in Saudi Arabia and I am confident that our extensive investment into the club will entice members, visitors, golfers, and non-golfers to enjoy the new range of benefits and remarkable golfing facilities that are now on offer, thanks to the efforts of the Golf Saudi team who have overseen this redevelopment.”