FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot
CAF General-Secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba gives a press conference in Cairo on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 26 November 2021

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot
  • “Those who are against are those who are at the top,” Infantino told officials

GENEVA: Opponents of FIFA’s push for World Cups every two years seem scared of being toppled from the top of world soccer, its president Gianni Infantino said on Friday.
Infantino’s speech to African soccer leaders was a clear criticism of Europe and South America which have dominated every World Cup and are threatening a boycott of biennial men’s tournaments.
“Those who are against are those who are at the top,” Infantino told officials from the 54-nation Confederation of African Football meeting in Cairo.
“It happens in every sector of life, when there are reforms and changes, those who are at the top don’t want anything to change,” said Infantino, who was a long-time senior official at UEFA until being elected FIFA president in 2016. “They are afraid, maybe, that if something changes their leadership position is at risk.”
Europe and South America have provided every team to play in all 21 World Cup finals since the first in 1930, and their historical strength has earned them at least 18 of the 32 entries at the 2022 edition in Qatar.
“We understand that and we compliment and applaud them for having been so successful in reaching the top,” Infantino said. “This is fantastic and they are an example for everyone. But at the same time we cannot close the door (to others).”
No African team has reached a men’s World Cup semifinal and the continent has just five of the 32 entries. That rises to at least nine when the 48-team tournament debuts in 2026.
Infantino has pushed for biennial World Cups to help other regions develop and close the gap — by giving nations more chances to qualify and players more chances to perform on the biggest stage.
An extra men’s World Cup in a four-year cycle would likely add around $3 billion at current levels to FIFA income and increase funding to its 211 member federations and six continental bodies.
“It is our responsibility to keep the dream open to give opportunities to everyone,” the FIFA leader said.
Still, the backlash from all levels of European soccer since FIFA formally detailed its biennial plan in September led Infantino to say last month that any changes must be reached by consensus without doing harm to the game.
European and South American soccer officials see threats to the status of their own continental and domestic competitions, and an increased workload for players.
Infantino hinted again on Friday that a modified tournament could be a solution to getting wider support.
“Will it be with the World Cup or will it be in another way?” he told members of CAF, which is currently the continental body most closely aligned with FIFA. “We have to study, of course, all this.”
Annual 48-team youth tournaments, instead of the two-yearly World Cups for men and women at under-20 and under-17 level, are also part of FIFA’s plan to develop soccer.
It was detailed in Cairo by Arsène Wenger, the former Arsenal coach who is FIFA director of global development.
Infantino warned of losing a generation of youth players whose birth year falls at the wrong time in the current cycle of tournaments.
FIFA has organized an online summit of its 211 members on Dec. 20 to discuss a strategy for future tournaments.
No vote on biennial World Cups is expected then amid the current opposition, which includes a show of unity by UEFA and South American soccer body CONMEBOL. They have created a shared office in London that opens next month.


Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile
Updated 23 sec ago

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile
  • Cairo 25-year-old climbs world rankings after becoming first Egyptian woman to reach a WTA final

Last year, on a midsummer day in Cluj-Napoca in northern Romania, tennis player Mayar Sherif made history by becoming the first Egyptian woman to reach a WTA final.

On the same day, thousands of miles to the east in Tokyo, Feryal Abdelaziz became the first Egyptian woman to win Olympic gold when she emerged victorious in the karate competition.

Women’s sport in Egypt is enjoying an unprecedented high, and Sherif, who kicks off her Australian Open campaign on Tuesday against Heather Watson, is honored to be playing her part in the movement.

“I feel the pressure and the responsibility. I feel like I want to reach much higher than where I am right now, but I still need to work and learn to so many things,” the 25-year-old Cairo player told Arab News ahead of her Melbourne opener.

“But I’m striving for more. I’m not satisfied, I’m not feeling like, ‘Oh, this is so good, this is so amazing.’ No, I’m always looking forward and always looking for more,” she said.

That unrelenting drive to improve is what makes Sherif one of the standout Arab athletes at the moment, and explains why she became the first Egyptian woman to be ranked in the top 100.

Sherif, ranked 62 in the world, is now able to gain direct entry into most of the biggest tournaments on tour — unfamiliar territory for the rising star.

Her trip to Australia so far has resulted in two opening round defeats. However, her loss to world No.37 Liudmila Samsonova in Adelaide last week was a tight affair that saw Sherif challenge her higher-ranked Russian opponent.

“It’s not easy, of course; there are expectations. But I want to go forward and move up the rankings,” Sherif said, explaining her hopes for the 2022 season.

“But I have to think on my goals, on what I have to do. It’s a good opportunity to be directly into the main draws, which will give me experience. Maybe it’s not going to pay off now, but it’s going to pay off soon, I hope. It’s going to come.”

Against Samsonova, Sherif fired 14 aces and displayed a smooth rhythm on her serve throughout the match, getting broken just once in the final game of the contest.

“I’ve been working on improving the style of my serve for the past two years, and more recently we were working almost every day on the serve, to have the kind of consistencythat I had in the match against Samsonova,” said Sherif.

“The work has paid off. The last couple of years I wasn’t so consistent on my serve. We kept changing little things. The style of my serve was disastrous, so we were changing one thing after the other and now, thankfully, it’s almost complete.”

Adjusting to the WTA will take time and Sherif said that stepping up to the top tier of the women’s competition will require greater attention to detail.

“The little things matter. Like against Samsonova, I had many break points in the first set. I had a set point, but in the important moments I didn’t play well. These are the little things that matter. If you have a chance, you have to take it because if you miss the chance, it might not come back,” she said.

“At ITFs, you can miss one or two balls and still win the game. Here, you miss a couple of balls, it’s not going to work. You have to be consistent all the match, not giving anything away.”

Transitioning to the WTA tour is not just about improving her level to compete with the game’s best, but also about making friends on the circuit and getting comfortable with her new surroundings.  

“I’m getting to know more people. Last week I played doubles with (Tereza) Martincova. We literally met up five minutes before our first match. We were like, ‘Which side will you play? The backhand side? Great, let’s do it.’ And it turned out well,” said Sherif, who made it to the doubles final of the Melbourne 250 event alongside Martincova.  

“Of course, a chance like this, I wouldn’t have had it if my ranking wasn’t high enough to get me into these WTA tournaments. I’m playing doubles for the first time at the Australian Open, people are starting to call me up to see if we should play together, so naturally I’m making friends, I’m knowing more people. And Justo (Gonzalez), my coach, talks to everyone, everywhere, so he’s making friends for me.”

Sherif is not daunted by the prospect of facing tougher opposition now that she is rising through the rankings and has a clear vision of what she hopes to accomplish this year.

“I want to step on court and compete; I want to feel the competition, it doesn’t matter, win or lose, I want to get experience. I want to be there,” she said.

“Consistency throughout the year is very important, and that’s something I didn’t do a very good job at last year. And the start of this year, I’m starting a little slow, that’s something I need to work on, to start the season more fit, more competitive, I would say.”

She added: “And I want to go throughout the year with the same rhythm. Because last year, the first six months, I didn’t compete at all, I got COVID-19 in the middle of that period, but still I could have done better. So, hopefully, I try to compete all year round and get points from everywhere I play.”

Sherif said that she is willing to step down to some of the smaller tournaments, such as the $100,000 or $125,000 events on the ITF circuit, because she believes these will help her gain match toughness.

“I enjoy playing $100k or $125k series to get rhythm and confidence before moving up to the WTA 250s. Just because my ranking is 60-something doesn’t means I won’t play these $100ks or even $60ks,” she said.

“Competition is always good, to feel those victories, to get the feel for those important moments, and ultimately, those were the kind of matches that got me into competition mode last year.”

Sherif spent most of her offseason training in Alicante, but had two weeks in Cairo, where she hosted an event that brought together all of her sponsors and backers, and some key figures in the Egyptian sports industry, to thank them for their support.

“It’s amazing, because every time I go to Cairo, people want to meet me, they want to congratulate and tell me they’re proud of me. I always get these kind of comments when I’m there, and that gives you a feeling of, not on a tennis level, but on a personal level, that I really did something big for my country,” she said.

“It’s beyond ranking and winning or losing tournaments. So that is always amazing.”


Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says

Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says
Updated 19 min 3 sec ago

Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says

Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says
  • ‘Any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain’
  • Novak Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella

MADRID: World men’s tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic will have to comply with Spanish health rules to be able to travel to Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday.
Answering a question on whether Djokovic would be allowed to enter Spain to compete after Australia deported him for being unvaccinated against COVID-19, Sanchez said: “Any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was visiting Spain on Monday and stood beside Sanchez during the news conference, also insisted the different rules in the different countries must be respected. “We all have to abide by them, no matter who we are,” he said.
Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella. He spent a few days in late December and early January and video footage showed him training there.
Spanish rules currently require people to have either a vaccine certificate, a PCR negative test or a certificate of having recovered from COVID-19. The country imposes strict quarantines on people who test positive.
During the same news conference, the Spanish Prime Minister made an impassioned call for vaccination. Even though vaccination is not mandatory in Spain, the vaccination rate is one of the highest in Europe.


WWE returns to Saudi Arabia for Elimination Chamber at Jeddah Superdome

WWE returns to Saudi Arabia for Elimination Chamber at Jeddah Superdome
Updated 32 min 54 sec ago

WWE returns to Saudi Arabia for Elimination Chamber at Jeddah Superdome

WWE returns to Saudi Arabia for Elimination Chamber at Jeddah Superdome
  • Event will be first WWE bout since the second edition of Crown Jewel in Riyadh last October

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, in partnership with WWE, has announced that Elimination Chamber will be held at the Jeddah Superdome, the world’s largest pillarless arena, on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022.

It will be the first WWE event in Saudi Arabia since the 2021 edition of Crown Jewel held on Oct. 21, 2021 at Mohammed Abdu Arena on the Boulevard as part of the Riyadh Season. 

More details of the event will be announced in coming weeks.


Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open

Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open
Updated 18 January 2022

Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open

Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open
  • Error-strewn clash with Poland’s Magdalena Frech which saw 11 service breaks
  • Both players struggled to hold serve in the opening set

MELBOURNE: Former world number one Simona Halep labored into the Australian Open second round Tuesday after an error-strewn clash with Poland’s Magdalena Frech which saw 11 service breaks.
The fit-again Romanian 14th seed came into the Grand Slam full of confidence after her first title in 16 months at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament this month.
But she struggled to find her groove against the 102nd-ranked Pole before banking the win 6-4, 6-3 on Margaret Court Arena to keep her dreams of a third major title alive.
“I found it so difficult today, I was unsure if I could play good tennis,” she said.
“But in the end I won and that makes me very happy. Hopefully this week I can play better and better.”
Halep, the runner-up in 2018 to Caroline Wozniacki and semifinalist two years later, is on her way back after a truncated 2021 season when she struggled with calf and knee injuries.
And it was a far from convincing performance, with both players struggling to hold serve in the opening set, with Frech broken three times and Halep twice.
Ultimately, the Romanian was stronger in the rallies and she finally sealed the set on serve with a trademark backhand down the line.
Neither player’s serve improved in the second set with Halep immediately breaking before Frech went on a three-game win streak as the error-count mounted.
Halep then reeled off five games in a row to ensure victory and a second round clash with either American qualifier Katie Volynets or Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia.


Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open
Updated 17 January 2022

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open
  • Osaka successfully opens title defense but Gauff an early big-name casualty

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal and Ashleigh Barty made devastating starts to their Australian Open title campaigns on Monday as the Grand Slam attempted to move on from the Novak Djokovic visa saga.

Naomi Osaka launched the defense of her women’s crown with victory but Coco Gauff was an early big-name casualty. The American 17-year-old dumped out in straight sets by Wang Qiang, who is ranked outside the top 100.

The only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Djokovic’s deportation, Nadal started his quest to become the first male to win 21 Grand Slams by sweeping aside 66th-ranked Marcos Giron, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

The draw has opened up for the Spanish great with defending champion Djokovic out of the picture and the other member of the “Big Three,”  Roger Federer, not at Melbourne Park because of injury.

But the 35-year-old Nadal said he was just relieved to be playing tennis after Djokovic’s refusal to get vaccinated against COVID overshadowed the first Grand Slam of the year right up until the last moment.

Although Djokovic’s absence is good news for Nadal’s tilt at men’s tennis history, he said he would rather the world No. 1 from Serbia was playing.

“The ideal situation in the world of sport is that the best players are on court,” said Nadal, who plays Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round.

He may not be there, but Djokovic still looms over the tournament.

Nadal was all guns blazing at Rod Laver Arena, showing no apparent ill effects from a foot injury he suffered last year and then being “very sick” with COVID in December.

“Today is one victory in the first Grand Slam. Happy for that. One month ago situation had been different — looks very ugly in some way,” he said.

Other winners in the men’s draw on day one of the so-called “Happy Slam,” where crowds have been capped at 50 percent because of the pandemic, included seventh seed Matteo Berrettini.

The Italian defeated American Brandon Nakashima in four sets despite tummy trouble.

Also through was third seed Alexander Zverev in the night match, but 12th-seeded Briton Cameron Norrie lost in three sets to Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda.

There was to be no fairytale run for “lucky loser” Salvatore Caruso.

The Italian had earned a place in the main draw when Djokovic was deported but he fell at the first hurdle.

In the women’s draw, top seed and world No.1 Barty made a real statement of intent, crushing qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in 54 minutes, 6-0, 6-1.

The 25-year-old faces Lucia Bronzetti of Italy next as the pre-tournament favorite and home hope chases a maiden Australian Open title.

“There’s always something special about playing on a Monday night in the Australian Open,” said Barty, who will need to deal with high expectations from the home fans.

Japan’s former world No. 1 Osaka, the reigning champion, was also largely untroubled with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Colombia’s Camila Osorio.

Seeded 13 after a disrupted 2021 in which she said she had suffered “long bouts of depression,”  Osaka cruised through in 68 minutes.

“I would say I feel more comfortable in my skin, if that makes sense,” said the 24-year-old, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. She will play American Madison Brengle next.

Also through are French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, Greek fifth seed Maria Sakkari and reigning Olympic champion Belinda Bencic.

But there was heartbreak for Tunisian ninth seed Ons Jabeur, who did not even make it onto court and withdrew because of injury before her match.

Also out was the 18th-seeded prodigy Gauff, surprisingly losing 6-4, 6-2 to China’s Wang.

“I think just everything disappointed me about today,” said Gauff.

“I feel like in the pre-season, I worked really hard, and I felt like I was ready to have a good run here.

“Today I just didn’t perform well.”