Poland, Sweden refuse to play Russia in World Cup playoffs over Ukraine conflict

Update Poland, Sweden refuse to play Russia in World Cup playoffs over Ukraine conflict
Poland’s Robert Lewandowski supported his country’s soccer federation’s decision not to play their World Cup qualifier against Russia next month in response to the invasion of Ukraine. (AP)
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Updated 27 February 2022

Poland, Sweden refuse to play Russia in World Cup playoffs over Ukraine conflict

Poland, Sweden refuse to play Russia in World Cup playoffs over Ukraine conflict
  • The Czech Republic, another team to potentially face Russia, is likely to follow suit
  • UEFA says all Russian and Ukrainian teams in its competitions must now move their home games to play in other countries

WARSAW: Poland’s refusal to play its World Cup qualifier against Russia next month in response to that nation’s invasion of Ukraine gained wider support when Sweden followed with its own plans to protest to FIFA on Saturday.
Polish soccer federation president Cezary Kulesza announced Poland’s decision and said it was in talks with other federations to present a unified position to FIFA, which is responsible for the March 24 game in Moscow.
“No more words, time to act!” Kulesza wrote on Twitter, adding the move was prompted by the “escalation of the aggression.”
Also Saturday, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich suddenly handed over the “stewardship and care” of the Premier League club to its charitable foundation trustees. The move came after a member of the British parliament called for the Russian billionaire to hand over the club in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich, who has owned Chelsea since 2003, made no mention of the war in his statement.
He said: “I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea.”
Poland captain Robert Lewandowski and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny were among those supporting its federation’s decision, with the Bayern Munich striker saying “we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”
Sweden, a potential opponent of Russia in next month’s playoffs, later joined Poland in declaring its national team would not play a match against the Russians regardless of where it takes place.
The Czech Republic, another team to potentially face Russia, is likely to follow suit.
Under the circumstances, “it’s almost impossible to imagine that such a game would take place,” said Petr Fousek, the head of the Czech football association. “It’s very likely we will follow the Polish and Swedish scenario.”
The association’s executive committee will meet later to decide, Fousek said.
Sweden made its position clear.
“The illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine currently makes all football fixtures with Russia impossible,” said Karl-Erik Nilsson, the Swedish federation’s chairman. “We therefore urge FIFA to decide that the playoff matches in March in which Russia participates will be canceled.”
The winner of the Poland-Russia match is due to host Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29 for a place at the World Cup being played in Qatar from Nov. 21-Dec. 18.
“We have a hard time believing,” Nilsson added, “that FIFA will not follow our call. Russia can not join as long as this madness continues.”
Nilsson is also first vice president at UEFA which has stripped Russia of hosting the Champions League final in St. Petersburg in May. UEFA decided Friday to move that game to Paris.
Lewandowski, Poland’s all-time leading scorer and winner of FIFA’s best-player award for the past two years, supported Kulesza’s announcement.
“I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues,” Lewandowski said on Twitter. “Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”
FIFA has yet to take a clear position on Russia hosting or even playing against Poland.
European soccer body UEFA said Friday that in its competitions all Russian and Ukrainian teams must now move their home games to play in other countries.
A potential precedent for action is from 1992. Both FIFA and UEFA removed Yugoslavia from their competitions following sanctions imposed by the United Nations at the outbreak of war there.
Previously, Poland had only said it did not want to play the qualifying playoff semifinal in Moscow.
In other sports, Norway’s ski federation said Saturday that Russian skiers are not welcome to compete in the Nordic country because of Russia’s “violations of international law and attacks on the Ukrainian people.”
Norway’s call directly contradicts International Ski Federation (FIS) policy announced late Friday and comes days after the winter sport power topped the Beijing Olympics medal table with a record 16 golds.
Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine since Thursday requires “international condemnation and sanctions,” the Norwegian federation said.
On Friday, FIS pulled its remaining World Cup events this season from Russia but later allowed Russians to carry on competing.
In a statement Saturday, the International Gymnastics Federation said: “All FIG-sanctioned events planned to take place in Russia and Belarus are removed from the FIG calendar and will no longer be recognized by the FIG. No other events taking place in Russia and Belarus will be sanctioned by the FIG until further notice.”
FIG President Morinari Watanabe said: “Our thoughts go to the members of the Gymnastics community in Ukraine. Sport is friendship and solidarity. We must show solidarity with the members of our family who are in despair and offer them a helping hand to ensure their future.”
In Madrid, the Russian flag and anthem were absent before the match between the Russia women rugby team and Spain. The hosts won 27-0 to become Rugby Europe champion. That came a day after Rugby Europe suspended all events in Russia.
Russia withdrew its team from the biathlon World Cup series on Saturday in protest at new restrictions. The International Biathlon Union had ordered the Russia and Belarus teams to compete as “neutral athletes” without their country’s flag and anthem so that emblems of the two countries would not be on display.
Kyiv residents braced Saturday for another night sheltering underground, as Russian troops closed in on Ukraine’s capital and skirmishes were reported on the outskirts. Ukraine’s leader claimed that Ukraine’s forces had repulsed the assault and vowed to keep fighting. “We will win,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.


World No. 3 Casper Ruud to join Carlos Alcaraz at Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi

World No. 3 Casper Ruud to join Carlos Alcaraz at Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi
Updated 04 October 2022

World No. 3 Casper Ruud to join Carlos Alcaraz at Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi

World No. 3 Casper Ruud to join Carlos Alcaraz at Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi
  • The Norwegian is the latest name added to the Dec. 16-18 tournament at the International Tennis Centre in Zayed Sports City
  • Just months after facing off in the US Open final, Ruud and Alcaraz could face each other again in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Just a day after announcing World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz will make his Middle East debut at this year’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship in December, organizers have revealed World No. 3 Casper Ruud will join the Spaniard in making his first appearance in Abu Dhabi.

Ruud is coming off a stellar season in which he made it to two Grand Slam finals and secured three ATP Tour wins. After reaching the French Open final in June, he reached the final of the US Open at Flushing Meadows where he was narrowly beaten in a thrilling match by Alcaraz.

The 23-year-old Norwegian will arrive in the UAE capital aiming for a maiden MWTC title. In securing the World No. 2 ranking last month, he became the highest-ranked Norwegian tennis player in history. He has nine ATP Tour singles career titles and is looking forward to playing on the hard court at the International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City.

“I’m really looking forward to visiting Abu Dhabi for the first time to contest the Mubadala World Tennis Championship,” said Ruud. “It’s been a tournament on my radar for some time and I know that the level of tennis is going to be of the highest quality. I’m excited to be involved and play in front of my fans over there in the UAE.”

John Lickrish, CEO, Flash Entertainment, added: “We are delighted to confirm Casper Ruud will be contesting this year’s Championship. To have the World No. 1 and No. 3, and the next generation of tennis superstars, is a real coup for the UAE capital and shows the popularity of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. Just last month, these two players were contesting the final of the US Open and now there is every chance they could face each other in Abu Dhabi. That is what we are always looking to produce — an event featuring the very best.”

Ruud, Alcaraz, and female pair Ons Jabeur and Emma Raducanu will be joined by four remaining male players in the event’s star-studded line-up, with one more being announced tomorrow.

Celebrating its 14th edition this year, the MWTC will take place from Dec. 16-18 at the International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City. As well as witnessing a field comprising six of the world’s top male players, the two female players will face off on the opening day.


Al-Shabab’s Krychowiak voted Roshn Saudi League player of the week after two-goal performance

Al-Shabab’s Krychowiak voted Roshn Saudi League player of the week after two-goal performance
Updated 04 October 2022

Al-Shabab’s Krychowiak voted Roshn Saudi League player of the week after two-goal performance

Al-Shabab’s Krychowiak voted Roshn Saudi League player of the week after two-goal performance
  • Polish midfielder scored twice as league leaders maintained perfect start to season with 2-1 win over Al-Fayha

Al-Shabab’s Grzegorz Krychowiak has been voted Roshn Saudi League player of the week by statistical website SofaScore after a match-winning performance in Round 5 of the season.

The Polish midfielder, on loan from Major League Soccer club New York City FC, managed a rating of 8.6 after scoring two goals from outside the penalty in his team’s 2-1 win over Al-Fayha on Sunday.

Team of the week for Round 5 of the Roshn Saudi League. (SofaScore)

The team of the week included Damac goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba, who scored a historic goal in the 2-0 win over Al-Tai; defenders Saeed Al-Mowalad (Al-Ettifaq), Mohammed Salem (Al-Raed), Djamel Benlamri (Al-Khaleej) and Tawfiq Buhumaid (Al-Fateh); midfielders Aschraf El Mahdioui (Al-Taawoun), Faycal Fajr (Al-Wehda), Lucas Souza (Al-Khaleej), Abdullah Al-Ammar (Damac) and Krychowiak; and finally Alexandru Mitrita (Al-Raed) in attack.

The fifth of the Rosh Saudi League concluded with Al-Shabab top of the table with a maximum of 15 points, Al-Hilal in second with 12 and Al-Ittihad in third with 11.


Tennis star Kyrgios to fight assault charge on mental health grounds

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight assault charge on mental health grounds
Updated 04 October 2022

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight assault charge on mental health grounds

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight assault charge on mental health grounds
  • Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law

CANBERRA: Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios will apply to have an assault charge dismissed on mental health grounds, his lawyer told an Australian court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared on behalf of Kyrgios in a court in the tennis star’s hometown of Canberra and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

The 27-year-old Australian tennis star will appear in court in person on that date for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July.

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and dealing with an allegation in that way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police last December.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the US Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s US Open title defense last month to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for the February hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios was scheduled to play at the Japan Open later Tuesday against Tseng Chun-hsin of Taiwan.

Speaking in Tokyo before his matter returned to court, Kyrgios said it was “not difficult at all” to focus on tennis despite the pending charge.

“There’s only so much I can control and I’m taking all the steps and dealing with that off the court,” he told reporters. “I can only do what I can and I’m here in Tokyo and just trying to play some good tennis, continue that momentum and just try to do my job.”


Saudi Arabia to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at NEOM

Saudi Arabia to  host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at NEOM
Updated 56 min 51 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at NEOM

Saudi Arabia to  host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at NEOM
  • NEOM is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s most ambitious project under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it has won a bid to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at a planned mountain resort in the Gulf Arab state’s $500 billion flagship NEOM project.

The TROJENA development is expected to be completed in 2026 and will offer outdoor skiing, a man-made freshwater lake and a nature reserve, according to the project’s website.

In August, a letter of interest to the Olympic Council of Asia included a brief of Saudi Vision 2030, which will support TROJENA host one of the most significant sporting events in Asia in which more than 32 countries are expected to participate.

The Olympic Council of Asia welcomed the official request. The decision was made during the council’s executive board meeting and general assembly being held in Cambodia on Oct. 3-4.

“With the unlimited support by the Saudi leadership & HRH Crown Prince to the sport sector we are proud to announce we have won the bid to host AWG TROJENA2029 as the first country in west Asia,” Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said on Twitter.

NEOM is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s most ambitious project under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development plan to reduce reliance on oil and transform the economy, including by developing sports.

NEOM, a 26,500-square-kilometer high-tech development on the Red Sea, will include zero-carbon city The Line, as well as industrial and logistics areas.

Saudi Arabia will be the first West Asian nation to host the Asian Winter Games.

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Independent probe blows lid off ‘systemic’ abuse and sexual misconduct in US women’s football

Independent probe blows lid off ‘systemic’ abuse and sexual misconduct in US women’s football
Updated 04 October 2022

Independent probe blows lid off ‘systemic’ abuse and sexual misconduct in US women’s football

Independent probe blows lid off ‘systemic’ abuse and sexual misconduct in US women’s football
  • The investigation began after a 2021 report by The Athletic about abusive behavior and sexual misconduct by former Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley
  • The 172-page report included interviews with more than 200 National Women’s Soccer League players

WASHINGTON: An independent investigation into allegations of misconduct in US women’s soccer released Monday found “systemic” abuse and sexual misconduct by coaches.

The probe by former acting US attorney general Sally Yates and the King & Spalding law firm uncovered verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct, including a pattern of “sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and touching and coercive sexual intercourse.”

The 172-page report included interviews with more than 200 National Women’s Soccer League players — many of them members of US national teams — and detailed patterns of abuse from team coaches, manipulation and tirades plus retaliation for those who complained.

“Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches and victims,” Yates wrote in the report’s executive summary.

“Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players,” she added.

“The players who have come forward to tell their stories have demonstrated great courage. It’s now time that the institutions that failed them in the past listen to the players and enact the meaningful reform players deserve.”

The investigation began after a 2021 report by The Athletic about abusive behavior and sexual misconduct by former Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley.

That report said complaints were brought to former US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati but no action was taken by USSF against Riley. Although he eventually was fired by the Thorns, Riley was hired to coach another NWSL team.

“The verbal and emotional abuse players describe in the NWSL is not merely ‘tough’ coaching,” Yates wrote.

“And the players affected are not shrinking violets. They are among the best athletes in the world. They include members of the US Women’s national team, veterans of multiple World Cup and Olympic tournaments.”

Rory Dames coached the Chicago Red Stars from the NWSL’s start until resigning last November. The report outlined his obscenities and verbal abuse and insults to players, saying a sexualized workplace led to multiple improper sexual relationships with players.

Christy Holly was a coach with Sky Blue for half a season in 2016 before departing after complaints of verbal abuse and an improper relationship, the report said.

Holly was hired last year by expansion club Racing Louisville, where verbal and emotional abuse was repeated and he was fired after sexually coercing and groping a player.

The NWSL, in a statement, promised “systemic reform” to make the league one “with safe and professional environments to train and compete” and acknowledged the “anxiety and mental strain” for women reliving traumatic incidents.

“We continue to admire their courage in coming forward to share their stories,” it said. “We know we must learn from and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past in order to move the league into a better future.”

The report found teams, league officials and the USSF “repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse,” and “failed to institute basic measures to prevent and address it, even as some leaders privately acknowledged the need for workplace protections.”

That allowed abusive coaches to move from club to club with positive remarks that concealed misconduct.

“Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent,” the report said. “And no one at the teams, the league or the federation demanded better of coaches.”

USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone, a former US women’s national team player who took charge in 2020, said measures are already underway to prevent such violations from happening again.

“This investigation’s findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling,” Cone said. “The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace.

“US Soccer is fully committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that all players — at all levels — have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete.”

Federation initiatives include online and text systems for reporting incidents, tighter verifying of coaches and referees, and background screening.

“US Soccer and the entire soccer community have to do better,” Cone said. “I have faith that we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for every organization tasked with ensuring player safety.”

A new office of participant safety will be established to address the findings and act on recommendations.

“We’re taking the immediate action that we can today,” Cone said. “We can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem,” Cone said.