Tennis-Djokovic lands amid vaccine storm but held up by visa issue

Tennis-Djokovic lands amid vaccine storm but held up by visa issue
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning his final match against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev the Australian Open Men’s Singles Final at Melbourne Park in February 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 January 2022

Tennis-Djokovic lands amid vaccine storm but held up by visa issue

Tennis-Djokovic lands amid vaccine storm but held up by visa issue
  • Djokovic confirmed Tuesday that had received a vaccination exemption to allow him to bid for a record 21st major title at the Australian Open
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison had already suggested Djokovic's participation was not a done deal and he would have to satisfy the federal government

SYDNEY: Novak Djokovic landed in Australia on Wednesday in the middle of a political maelstrom over his COVID-19 vaccine status, as a visa dispute added a new twist to the world number one’s attempt to play in the Australian Open.
Djokovic, who has won nine titles at Melbourne Park including the last three, confirmed on Tuesday that had received a vaccination exemption to allow him to bid for a record 21st major title at the Australian Open, which starts on Jan. 17.
His announcement that he had received a medical exemption to play provoked outrage in Melbourne, which has endured the world’s longest cumulative lockdown and where an outbreak of the omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had already suggested Djokovic’s participation was not a done deal and he would have to satisfy the federal government, which has responsibility for international borders and visas and was not part of the exemption process.
And Australian media reported that he had now been held up by a visa error after landing.
The Age newspaper said the federal Border Force had contacted the Victoria state government asking if it would support his application after his team applied for the wrong kind of visa.
While not confirming the reason, acting Victoria Sports Minister Jaala Pulford said: “The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia.
“We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.”
It was not clear whether the federal government would allow his entry. The Border Force could not be reached for comment.
Morrison said earlier there would be “no special rules” for Djokovic on his exemption.
“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home,” Morrison told a media conference.
Tennis Australia and government officials moved quickly to stress that Djokovic, who has said he is opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations, had received no preferential treatment.
Australian tennis great Rod Laver, after whom the main showcourt at Melbourne Park in the state of Victoria is named, warned that Djokovic might face hostility from the local crowd.
“I think it might get ugly,” Laver told News Corp. “I’d think the Victorian people would be thinking ‘Yes I’d love to see him play and compete but at the same time, there’s a right way and a wrong way.’
“Yes, you’re a great player and you’ve performed and won so many tournaments, so it can’t be physical. So what is the problem?“
Melbourne local Christine Wharton said it was a “disgrace.”
“We’ve all done the right thing, we’ve all gone out and got our jabs and our boosters and we have someone that’s come from overseas and all of a sudden he’s been exempt and can play and I think it’s an absolute disgrace and I won’t be watching it.”
EXPLANATION ‘HELPFUL’
Organizers Tennis Australia have stipulated that everyone at Melbourne Park must be vaccinated or have a medical exemption granted by an independent panel of experts.
With the exemption, Djokovic will not be required to quarantine and will enjoy the same freedoms in Melbourne as someone who is vaccinated.
Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said the independent panel consisted of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice and all exemptions met conditions set out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization.
“We completely understand and empathize with ... people being upset about the fact that Novak has come in because of his statements over the past couple of years around vaccination,” he told reporters.
“It’ll certainly be helpful if Novak was to explain the conditions in which he’s sought an exemption ... but ultimately it’s up to him,” he said.
Playing will give Djokovic the chance to nose ahead of Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, who also have 20 Grand Slam crowns.
In a social media post on Tuesday Djokovic said “Let’s go 2022” alongside a picture of himself at an airport as he confirmed he was heading to Australia with the exemption.
The decision has drawn a mixed reaction from players.
“I think it’s a tough one. As we’ve seen a little bit in the last day or so, from the Australian public, I know how hard it has been for Australians ... but in particular Victorians have had a real rough trot over the last 18 months and two years,” Australia’s Ash Barty, women’s number one, said.
American doubles specialist Nicole Melichar-Martinez tweeted: “I don’t understand why @DjokerNole is getting so much hate for his vaccine exemption. He’s within the rules, and the government could have said ‘no’ but they didn’t.”


Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to host youth programs in Abu Dhabi

Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to host youth programs in Abu Dhabi
Updated 7 sec ago

Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to host youth programs in Abu Dhabi

Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to host youth programs in Abu Dhabi
  • League’s first ‘Jr. NBA Week’ in Mideast for 2,000 young basketball players and coaches through clinics and camps
  • The teams will play two preseason games on Oct. 6 and 8 at Etihad Arena on Yas Island

ABU DHABI: The National Basketball Association announced on Tuesday a series of youth engagement programs in collaboration with the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks as part of The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022.

The activities, which will include the league’s first “Jr. NBA Week” in the Middle East, will run from Monday, Oct. 3 to Sunday, Oct. 9, with nearly 2,000 youth, coaches and basketball stakeholders from the UAE, the region and Europe.

The week will consist of clinics and camps focused on teaching the game, promoting health and wellness, and empowering the next generation of female players and coaches. The events will feature appearances by Hawks and Bucks players and coaches, NBA and WNBA legends, and US Basketball Head Coach/Coach Director, Youth & Sport Development Don Showalter.

The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will feature the Hawks and the 2021 NBA champions Bucks playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island on Thursday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 8, marking the league’s first games in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf.

The games are part of a groundbreaking multiyear collaboration between the NBA and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi that earlier this year saw the launch of the first Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League, a youth basketball competition for 450 boys and girls aged 11 to 14 from schools across the city.

The collaboration also includes a variety of interactive fan events featuring appearances by current and former NBA players, a series of NBA FIT clinics promoting health and wellness, and an NBA 2K League exhibition event.

The week’s activities include, among others:

Atlanta Hawks Youth Program Oct. 3

Hawks players and coaches will lead three simultaneous youth development events at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus’ three-court facility, including clinics for boys and girls from the first Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League and the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics program. There is also an NBA FIT clinic for local youth that will focus on the importance of living a healthy and active lifestyle. The participants will attend the game on Oct. 6.

NBA Coaching Clinics Oct. 3 to 4

The assistant coaches of the Hawks, Joe Prunty and Mike Longabardi, and those of the Bucks, Mike Dunlap and Vince Legarza, will host clinics for over 300 male and female basketball coaches from the UAE.

Milwaukee Bucks Youth Program Oct. 4

Bucks players and coaches will offer drills for members of the NBA Basketball School in Dubai and the Jr. NBA Elite Training Camp at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus.

Jr. NBA School Clinics Oct. 4 to 5

The NBA will conduct eight clinics for boys and girls at local schools across Abu Dhabi, two of which will be attended by NBA Legend Dominique Wilkins and WNBA Legend Ticha Penicheiro (Portugal). The clinics will focus on teamwork, skills and healthy habits.

NBA Hoops For Troops Meet & Greets

In collaboration with the United Service Organizations, the NBA will host members of the US military for meet and greets with NBA legends at both games.

Jr. NBA Elite Training Camp Oct. 4 to 9

The NBA will host 25 of the top boys and girls from Jr. NBA leagues across Europe and the Middle East, and the NBA Basketball School in Dubai, at an elite training camp in Abu Dhabi. The athletes, from 11 countries, were selected following a Jr. NBA Elite Camp in Rome in May. They will participate in training and competitions with the NBA Basketball School from Dubai and the UAE under-18 Men’s National Team.

Her Time To Play Clinic Oct. 8

The NBA will host a “Her Time To Play” clinic at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus for 70 girls from the Jr. NBA Elite Training Camp and the NBA Basketball School in Dubai. Participants will engage in a clinic and conversations focused on female empowerment and opportunities in sports and leadership, highlighted by a talk with Penicheiro.


Italy advances in Nations League; England, Germany draw 3-3

Italy advances in Nations League; England, Germany draw 3-3
Updated 27 September 2022

Italy advances in Nations League; England, Germany draw 3-3

Italy advances in Nations League; England, Germany draw 3-3

Part one of the healing process is complete for Italy.
Looking to regain respect after failing to qualify for a second straight World Cup, the Azzurri advanced to next year’s finals tournament in the Nations League by winning at Hungary 2-0 thanks to goals by Giacomo Raspadori and Federico Dimarco on Monday.
By topping a group also containing England and Germany, the Italians joined the Netherlands and Croatia in qualifying for the final four, which will be hosted by the Dutch in June.
Portugal or Spain will complete the lineup when they face off on Tuesday.
Unlike Italy, England and Germany will be going to the World Cup in Qatar in less than two months and they’ll head to the Middle East on the back of a wild 3-3 draw at Wembley Stadium, where all the goals were scored in the second half.
Trailing 2-0, England scored three goals in a 12-minute span from the 71st — through Luke Shaw, Mason Mount and Harry Kane’s penalty — only for Kai Havertz to pounce on a fumble by England goalkeeper Nick Pope to equalize in the 87th.
England’s winless run stretched to six games, with Gareth Southgate’s team finishing its Nations League campaign without a victory and relegated.
Germany isn’t in much better shape ahead of the World Cup, with just one win in its last seven games.
Italy won Group A3 with 11 points, one more than Hungary, which went into the game in Budapest needing only a draw to reach the Nations League final four for the first time.

Italy's players celebrate after the UEFA Nations League Group 3 football match between Hungary and Italy in Budapest on September 26, 2022. (AFP)


ITALY RECOVERS
The Italians are finding it easier to qualify for Nations League finals than World Cups.
They also got to the 2021 tournament, losing to Spain in the semifinals on home soil in their first few months as the reigning European champion.
Plenty has changed in the team since beating England in the European Championship final at Wembley last year, not least up front where Raspadori is making his mark.
Three days after scoring the winner against England in Milan, the Napoli striker put Italy ahead after Adam Nagy’s back-pass came up short.
Wilfried Gnonto challenged goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi for the ball, which bounced free and Raspadori was alert to round Gulacsi and convert his finish in the 27th.
Gianluigi Donnarumma produced a string of diving stops — including a triple save in a matter of seconds — before Nicolò Barella played a ball through at the other end to Bryan Cristante, who crossed for Dimarco to score from close range for his first goal for Italy.
Late pressure from Hungary failed to yield a goal.
“We were excellent for 70 minutes, the last 20 I didn’t like too much,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said. “We’re happy — it’s important to have reached the Nations League final four for the second time.”
MAGUIRE UNDER SCRUTINY
Under pressure for his starting place in England’s team, Harry Maguire didn’t help his cause against Germany.
The Manchester United center back was at fault for Germany’s 52nd-minute opener from the spot by Ilkay Gundogan — Maguire initially gave the ball away to Jamal Musiala, then clumsily fouled the teenager in the area moments later — and was then dispossessed in midfield to allow the Germans to break, culminating in a curling finish from the edge of the area by Havertz.
Maguire has lost his starting spot at United but Southgate has retained his faith in the defender, who typically plays better for his country than his club. It was a tough night all around for England’s center backs, with John Stones forced off with a suspected hamstring injury.
England did well to fight back, with Kane’s penalty taking him to 51 goals for England, two off Wayne Rooney’s national record, but yet another mistake proved costly.
Pope, filling in for the injured Jordan Pickford, spilled Serge Gnabry’s weak shot and Havertz was on hand to tap in from close range.
“A couple of errors have cost us the goals,” Southgate said, “but I’ll focus on the fact they played with tremendous spirit and showed a belief that we haven’t shown in the last few games.”
There was a well-observed period of silence before kickoff as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, who died this month. Players from both teams wore black armbands.


Five things to look out for as Arab quartet finalize World Cup preparations

Five things to look out for as Arab quartet finalize World Cup preparations
Updated 26 September 2022

Five things to look out for as Arab quartet finalize World Cup preparations

Five things to look out for as Arab quartet finalize World Cup preparations
  • Herve Renard’s Saudi Arabia must produce more firepower upfront, while Qatar’s loss of form is cause for major concern

The four Arab teams preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup had mixed results in the first round of games in this crucial international break. There were plenty of talking points around the games, and below are just five things to look forward to as the quartet wrap up the last official international get-together before the action starts in Qatar on Nov. 20.

1. Saudi Arabia need to score against the US

There were some positives for Saudi Arabia to take from Friday’s 0-0 draw with Ecuador, not least that they avoided a third straight defeat since the end of qualification for the World Cup.

But the Green Falcons have failed to score in 295 minutes of football, and to be honest, they have not looked like scoring very often. In the three friendlies against Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, chances have been few and far between.

In the most recent, there were a couple of opportunities, and Firas Al-Buraikan and Nawaf Al-Abed should have done better with their efforts, but coach Herve Renard needs to find a way to get Salem Al-Dawsari into the game and into areas where he can use his creative talents.

Salman Al-Faraj, with his ability to retain possession and bring composure to the middle of the park, was missed in that regard, and it is vital that the skipper gets fit and stays fit.

There are not many striking options available for Renard so there needs to be goals from all areas of the pitch. Against strong teams like Argentina, Poland and Mexico at the World Cup, Saudi Arabia are going to have to take their limited number of chances and be clinical on the counter and at set pieces. Another failure to score on Tuesday will set the alarm bells ringing.

2. Tunisia get their test against Brazil

The North Africans extended their unbeaten run to seven games on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Comoros. It was not the most fluid of performances from the Carthage Eagles but the real test comes on Tuesday with a game against Brazil in Paris. There is going to be a lot of support for Tunisia at the Parc des Princes and they want to see if this team are the real deal. The wins over Chile and especially Japan in Japan in June were hugely impressive, but now come the five-time world champions.

Tunisia have been placed in a tough group with title-holders France, Denmark and Australia, and will get a great idea of what level they are at the moment against a Brazil team that are in great form. The Selecao have scored 21 goals in the last six games with just one goal conceded, and the standard of opposition has been decent, too.

It is very impressive and means that head coach Jalel Kadri is going to see how well his team can defend against world-class players.

3. Qatar need to rediscover their mojo

The World Cup host started last week with a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Croatia’s U-23 team. Bad results can happen but the 2-0 loss to Canada on Friday was more worrying. The opening period was truly poor, with the two goals from the North Americans both coming in the first 15 minutes.

Qatar’s performance improved after that but the damage had been done. There was a distinct lack of energy and concentration among the players.

Coach Felix Sanchez has really taken the team places over the past few years and it would be disappointing if the 2019 Asian champions were to lose their edge just as the tournament is within touching distance. The wake-up call from the Canadians has to be heard and the game against Chile on Tuesday has become even more important. Whether there is a win or not, there has to be a return to the mentality monsters that won the 2019 continental championships.

4. Moroccan smiles as Ziyech returns

Morocco gave new coach Walid Regragui a 2-0 win over Chile in his first game in charge after being appointed in August. The man who led Wydad to the African Champions League title earlier in the summer was a popular choice to replace Vahid Halilhodzic.

Most of the headlines focused on the return of Hakim Ziyech for the first time since June 2021, with the breakdown of the Chelsea star’s relationship with Halilhodzic being seen as a major reason why the French Bosnian coach was dismissed.

Now Ziyech is back ahead of the World Cup and it is a major boost with tough group games against Belgium, Canada and Croatia coming up.

His performance was solid rather than spectacular and the same can be said of the game in general but it sets up the game against Paraguay nicely. Another confidence-boosting performance against South American opposition would be welcome and reaffirm the widespread belief that the coaching change, while late, was necessary.

5. US toughest test so far for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia have faced Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador since qualifying and failed to win any of the three matches.

Things will not get easier against a US team ranked 14 in the world, and which is full of experienced internationals playing in some of the world’s best leagues.

Christian Pulisic is with Chelsea, fullback Sergino Dest is with AC Milan and Weston McKennie plays for Juventus. There are others in the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, France’s Ligue 1 as well as MLS.

After losing 2-0 to Japan on Friday, coach Gregg Berhalter will be keen to return to winning ways.

Just as in the 0-0 draw with Ecuador, there is going to be plenty of defending for Saudi Arabia to do but there is no reason to sit back too much. There is also no reason why the Asian team cannot go toe to toe with the team that reached the knockout stage at three of their last four World Cups before missing out last time around. If the midfield can be more involved in the game and can keep and use possession better, those elusive goals may not be far away.


Saudi Games sees huge interest, registration extended by a week

Saudi Games sees huge interest, registration extended by a week
Updated 26 September 2022

Saudi Games sees huge interest, registration extended by a week

Saudi Games sees huge interest, registration extended by a week
  • Sept. 30 deadline after surge of athletes seeking to participate

The organizing committee of the Saudi Games 2022 on Sunday announced a week’s extension to the registration deadline for the event in Riyadh from Oct. 27 to Nov. 7.

The extra period was added to give more athletes the opportunity to join after there was huge demand from across the Kingdom to participate in one of the biggest events of its kind in Saudi sporting history.

The extension was from Sept. 25 to Sept. 30 and interested athletes can apply through the competition’s website for spots in the following sports: Darts, athletics, beach volleyball, billiards, bowling, rock climbing, cycling, esports, indoor rowing, Muay Thai, padel tennis, skateboarding, squash, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, weightlifting and wrestling.


Tight fight for Extreme E title as X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first win of season 2

Tight fight for Extreme E title as X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first win of season 2
Updated 26 September 2022

Tight fight for Extreme E title as X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first win of season 2

Tight fight for Extreme E title as X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first win of season 2
  • Penalties for winners NEOM McLaren dropped the team down the standings

The X44 Vida Carbon Racing team claimed their first victory of the Extreme E season in a dramatic first Copper X Prix Final in Chile at the weekend.

Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gutiérrez finished second but were handed a vital win after penalties for winners NEOM McLaren Extreme E dropped them down the standings.

A dramatic twist saw No. 99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing enter the final as first reserve, after technical issues robbed championship leaders Rosberg X Racing a shot at securing the title this weekend.

The American team had finished the race in third, but in pushing hard to make the most of the opportunity, they received a penalty for missing a waypoint, which subsequently put No. 99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing off the podium and into fourth.

Following those penalties for NEOM McLaren Extreme E and No. 99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing, ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team took second place and ABT CUPRA XE secured their first podium of the second season with third.

The victorious Loeb said: “We are very happy with the result today, of course. We were surprised to see that Rosberg X Racing weren’t competing in the final, but we didn’t have a lot of time to think about it as we were racing straight away.

“It was a very strong fight against some great teams but Cristina was incredible, securing the fastest lap of all the drivers in the final.”

Loeb’s teammate Gutiérrez said: “Today was amazing, we are so happy to have won the Copper X Prix and to still be in the fight for the championship. Rosberg X Racing are a really strong team so for them to not be able to drive in the final was not good for them, but hopefully it is more interesting to have more than one team fighting for the championship in Uruguay.

“It was a very tough race so I was surprised to get the fastest lap, but it shows what an incredible opportunity Extreme E is providing for female drivers to prove ourselves and show we can compete against some of the best drivers in the world. Now we go to Uruguay, which is very good for me as I love to race in South America. Hopefully we can even get another race win and maybe the championship too.”

Meanwhile Carlos Sainz Snr. of ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team, said: “It was a very exciting weekend and now we need to look to Uruguay and make sure we do a good final race.

“Even though we made it to the final it was not easy from where we were. We have been consistent and have been improving, and in life you have to keep improving, although it’s difficult at my age.”

Race Results:

1. X44 Vida Carbon Racing 8:59:728

2. ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team +6.093

3. ABT CUPRA XE +8.612

4. No. 99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing +10.159 (penalized)

5. NEOM McLaren Extreme E +18.935 (penalized)

Championship Points Standings:

1. Rosberg X Racing: 83

2. X44 Vida Carbon Racing: 66

3. ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team: 60

4. No. 99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing: 55

5. NEOM McLaren Extreme E: 34

6. Genesys Andretti United Extreme E: 33

7. XITE ENERGY RACING: 29

8. JBXE: 25

9. ABT CUPRA XE: 21

10. Veloce Racing: 8