US basketball star detained in Russia, in shadow of Ukraine war

Brittney Griner of the United States gestures during a game against Australia at Saitama Super Arena in their Tokyo 2020 Olympic women's basketball quarterfinal game in Saitama, Japan August 4, 2021. (REUTERS)
Brittney Griner of the United States gestures during a game against Australia at Saitama Super Arena in their Tokyo 2020 Olympic women's basketball quarterfinal game in Saitama, Japan August 4, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 19 March 2022

US basketball star detained in Russia, in shadow of Ukraine war

Brittney Griner of the United States gestures during a game against Australia at Saitama Super Arena in their Tokyo 2020 Olympic women's basketball quarterfinal game in Saitama, Japan August 4, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • Griner’s detention was not made public until 15 days after her official arrest, on March 5

WASHINGTON: Detained for more than a month in Russia, US basketball star Brittney Griner has become an unlikely victim of the war in Ukraine — and the best way to free her remains a crucial question.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion, was detained in Moscow airport on February 17 on charges of carrying vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil in her luggage.
She was immediately placed in a detention center, and on Thursday a Russian court extended her arrest until May 19.
The 31-year-old — one of few women who can “dunk” a ball and considered one of the best players in the world — faces up to 10 years in prison.
Griner was in Russia to play club basketball before the US season resumed, a common practice for American players, who can earn much higher salaries in foreign leagues than on domestic teams.

Griner’s detention was not made public until 15 days after her official arrest, on March 5.
The arrest came as relations between Moscow and the West hit rock bottom over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But her arrest was greeted with a silence that seems deliberate.
Probably anxious not to cause drama around Griner’s case in the midst of skyrocketing international tensions, USA Basketball, which oversees the Olympic teams, said on Twitter that it was “aware of and closely monitoring the legal situation facing Brittney Griner in Russia.”
Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner, who usually floods social media with pictures of her spouse, asked supporters to “please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely.”
The same strategy can be seen in Washington, where there is fear the player could become a pawn in the Ukraine conflict.
“For any American citizen held, we typically do not get into specifics because that is not constructive to bringing people home,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said of the government’s silence on the issue.
In recent days, however, details on Griner’s detention conditions have begun to emerge.
In a cell she shares with two other people, the basketball star reads Dostoyevsky and a biography of the members of the Rolling Stones, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
Russian media says Griner has not complained about her living conditions, though there is one small problem: the bed in her cell is far too small for her six-foot-nine-inch (2.06 meters) frame.

But more than a month after her arrest, others have opted for another strategy to try and win her release.
In a letter to Joe Biden dated March 10, two members of Congress urged the US president to “look Putin in the eyes and send a clear message to the Kremlin that America will not tolerate Putin using Americans as his pawn during this treacherous and bleak moment in world history.”
This campaign has also won over LGBT circles, concerned about the fate of the openly lesbian player in Russia, where violence against homosexual people is common.
Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of state and the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, has also spoken out, calling on social media to “Free Brittney.”
The message is a nod to the successful #FreeBritney campaign, launched around the world in a call to “free” popstar Britney Spears from her 13-year conservatorship.
 


Ronaldo misses Manchester United training for ‘family reasons’: reports

Ronaldo misses Manchester United training for ‘family reasons’: reports
Updated 04 July 2022

Ronaldo misses Manchester United training for ‘family reasons’: reports

Ronaldo misses Manchester United training for ‘family reasons’: reports
LONDON: Cristiano Ronaldo missed training with Manchester United on Monday due to “family reasons,” just days after the Portugal star reportedly told the club he wants to leave.
United players who had been away on international duty over the close-season were scheduled to meet up with the rest of the squad on Monday.
But, according to British media reports, Ronaldo did not attend, with his reason for failing to appear at United’s training ground accepted by the club.
However, the 37-year-old’s absence will be interpreted as the latest salvo in his bid to engineer a move away from Old Trafford.
Ronaldo is said to be disappointed by United’s decline since he returned to the club from Juventus last year.
United failed to qualify for this coming season’s Champions League after finishing sixth in the Premier League.
Despite the arrival of new manager Erik ten Hag from Ajax, Ronaldo reportedly does not believe United can challenge for major honors in the near future.
In the twilight of his career, Ronaldo would prefer to join a club capable of satisfying his desire to compete for the game’s top prizes.
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo, who has a year left on his United contract, has played 19 consecutive seasons in the Champions League and is the tournament’s all-time leading scorer.
The former Real Madrid star’s agent Jorge Mendes has reportedly sounded out Bayern Munich and Chelsea about a potential move, yet United are said to be adamant Ronaldo is not for sale.
Ronaldo was United’s top scorer with 24 goals last term, but his campaign was marred by public shows of frustration on several occasions as the team struggled under first Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and then interim boss Ralf Rangnick.
Ronaldo’s absence from training comes as United are due to leave for their pre-season tour of Asia and Australia on Friday.

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship
Updated 04 July 2022

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship
  • Commando Group takes the top sport with AFNT and Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club in second and third
  • Emirati Zayed Al-Kathiri grabs the gold medal in the black belt contest

FUJAIRAH: The AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship came to a stunning conclusion on Sunday with the UAE taking home the most medals courtesy of excellent performances across the amateur and professional divisions.

Zayed Al-Kathiri, the star of Baniyas Club and the national team, won the gold medal in the 62-kilogram category at the championship, his first official competition in the black belt division. He defeated Brazilian Bruno Borges in a match that stoked the passion of the spectators.

The UAE took the lead in the national rankings, beating Brazil in second and Colombia in third.

The championship, held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Sharqi, crown prince of Fujairah, saw heated contests with plenty of fervor and superb skills on display. The dramatic final day concluded as Commando Group Academy took the title, surpassing AFNT in second, with Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club in third.

Brig. Ahmed Hamdan Al-Zeyoudi, chairman of the UAE Taekwondo Federation, Mohammed Salem Al-Dhaheri, vice president of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, and Youssef Abdullah Al-Batran, UAEJJF board member, were among the guests who attended the competition on the second day.

“I express sincere gratitude and appreciation to Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Sharqi, the crown prince of Fujairah, for his patronage (of) the championship,” said Al-Batran.

“His highness always provides full support and care for combat sports, especially jiu-jitsu, to ensure its prosperity, and contributes to consolidating the country’s position as the global capital for the sport.”

“The Fujairah International Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship is becoming more and more significant and offers the perfect environment for developing future world champions in various international forums and championships. The strongest evidence of this is the fact that it was able to draw in more than 800 male and female participants from 50 different nations across the globe,” he added.

Al-Kathiri was ecstatic about his win.

“I am overjoyed with this first black belt accomplishment. Competitions in this category are different from others as the participants are very strong and experienced. I approached most of my fights today with optimism, careful analysis of my opponents’ styles, and a total dedication to the technical staff’s instructions, all of which contributed to this success.”

Obaid Salem Al-Nuaimi of the Al-Jazira Club, who took gold in the 56-kilogram professional division, added: “The path to success was not simple considering the presence of a group of the strongest opponents.”


Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City
Updated 04 July 2022

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City
  • Jesus was expected to fall down the pecking order at City had he stayed for the final year of his contract

LONDON: Arsenal have completed the signing of Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus for a fee of around £45 million ($54 million), the London club announced on Monday.
Jesus, who scored 95 goals in 236 appearances for City, has signed a “long-term contract” with Arsenal after deciding to leave the Premier League champions in search of more regular first-team action.
The Brazil international is reunited with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, who was Pep Guardiola’s assistant at City before he took charge at the Emirates Stadium.
“I’m very excited. The club has done a tremendous job to recruit a player of this stature,” Arteta said.
“This is a position that’s been on our radar for a long time now and we have managed to get a player that we all wanted, so I’m really happy.”
Jesus was expected to fall down the pecking order at City had he stayed for the final year of his contract as the champions have bolstered their striking options with the signings of Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.
Admitting Arteta’s presence at the Emirates was influential in his decision to join the Gunners, Jesus said: “We spoke a couple of times about the club, the players, the project and the future.
“I believe 100 percent in Mikel. I had a very good time with him before, he’s a very good guy and a very good coach as well.
“He helped me a lot. We would always stick together after the training sessions and do some finishing or something.
“He’s a very intelligent guy and was an amazing player, so if he knows something he can teach me or the young players.”
Arsenal have let senior strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette leave the club for free in the past six months.
Despite handing Eddie Nketiah a new five-year deal, Jesus is expected to lead the line for Arteta’s men as the Gunners aim to end a six-year absence from the Champions League.
The 25-year-old won four Premier League titles among eight major honors during his time with City after joining them in January 2017.
Arsenal have already strengthened Arteta’s squad with the signings of Portuguese midfielder Fabio Vieira, Brazilian teenage forward Marquinhos and American goalkeeper Matt Turner.
According to reports, they have also had a bid for Leeds winger Raphinha turned down, but are expected to return with an improved offer for the Brazilian international.
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Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk
Updated 04 July 2022

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk
  • Magpies’ new defender, 22, hopes to reach Premier League elite level
  • Left-footer in team’s summer preparations for season opener on Aug. 6

NEWCASTLE: Sven Botman has laughed off comparisons with compatriot Virgil van Dijk but hopes to one day reach the Liverpool star’s level — and do it with Newcastle United.

Last week Botman became the Magpies’ most expensive ever defender eclipsing the eight-figure sums paid for the likes of Dan Burn, Jonathan Woodgate and Fabricio Coloccini.

And the Netherlands’ youth international hopes to hit the ground running when he begins training with the rest of the Magpies’ first-team squad on Wednesday, after an extended summer break due to his national exertions.

While some look to the development of Van Dijk with Southampton and then the Reds, as a comparison upon which to gauge 22-year-old Botman, the central defender admits he has a long way to go to even be considered in the same conversation as one of the Premier League’s elite.

“I am far from his level,” said Botman, when asked about Van Dijk, regarded by many to be the best defender in world football.

“That is my goal, as Virgil is a great defender. Being in the Premier League, it can help me get faster to his level but I need a lot of time and a lot of matches. And I think Newcastle is the right environment for me to develop myself and to become a defender like him.”

Botman, a near $39 million purchase from Lille, is the third signing of the summer for head coach Eddie Howe, in what has already proven to be a busy transfer window.

The Magpies previously turned Matt Targett’s loan deal from Aston Villa into a permanent one before signing England international goalkeeper Nick Pope from Burnley.

Botman improves a department already blessed with plenty of experience and talent, but how will he complement those around him?

He explained: “I am a tall guy and I am strong in duels. I like to play one (versus one) against a striker but I also like to help the team with the build up from the back. I am left-footed but can also play with the right.

“I need to improve a lot but I am on the right path and I think here at Newcastle is the best step for me to improve myself.

“Newcastle at the moment is a club with a lot of passion. You see players working hard, but at the end Newcastle wants to reach the top end of the league and into Europe. We need to mix that with good football.

“I think in the upcoming five years, things are looking bright.”

It’s much-publicized that United weren’t Botman’s only option this summer.

Serie A champions and seven-times European Cup winners AC Milan were also deep in negotiations to sign the player from under the noses of Newcastle.

“I had some talks with some clubs,” the former Ajax defender admitted.

“I just like the Premier League so much and Newcastle has this project, where the future’s looking brighter. I hope to see myself grow with the club.

“I am delighted. I am thankful to all of the people who worked on this deal. It has been a long trip, but finally we are here.”

While European places and silverware continue to evade United, one of their unique selling points is the club’s fanatical supporters.

More than 30,000 people, bearing in mind the strict eligibility criteria, tried to snap up just 1,000 released season tickets for St James’ Park this season. And home and away sell outs are a weekly occurrence at United.

“I know that they have crazy, super fans,” he said.

“They always play with their heart, and if you watch them it is always played with passion.

“It’s like 52,000 people and I hear it is always sold out, the fans are crazy, so I can’t wait to play.

“I can only say good things about the fans. I get a lot of messages, sorry I can’t read them all.

“When I have seen matches in Newcastle, the whole vibe, the environment in the stadium is incredible. I can’t wait to play there.”

Head coach Howe now turns his attention to signing at least another two forward players to add goals, creativity and speed to the United frontline.

But focusing on getting his number one transfer target through the door, he said: “I’m delighted Sven is joining us. He is technically very good, physically very good and has a great attitude.

“At 22, he already has solid experience at the top level but he is at a great age to grow with this team. I am looking forward to getting to work with him and seeing him with his new teammates.”

Meanwhile, as the Newcastle players returned to pre-season training on Friday, the club announced confirmation of their full pre-season plans.

The club will kick off their summer preparation with a behind-closed-doors encounter with non-league neighbors Gateshead on Saturday. They will then travel to Austria, to a base on the outskirts of Salzburg, to take part in a nine-day training camp, which will see them face 1860 Munich and Mainz during their stay.

The first game of the trip will be on Friday, July 15 against Munich, then Mainz on Monday, July 18. The Magpies will venture out to Portugal to take on Benfica on Tuesday, July 26, although a game the previous weekend is still a possibility.

They will close out their summer games with a double-header at St James’ Park on Friday and Saturday, July 29 and 30. Atalanta then Athletic Bilbao will be the opposition on Tyneside.

Newcastle’s first game of the Premier League season takes place at home on Saturday, Aug. 6 against Nottingham Forest.


Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace
Updated 04 July 2022

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace
  • Australian toppled Stefanos Tsitispas in a heated four-set thriller on Saturday
  • Nick Kyrgios, ranked 40th in the world, thrives on his bad-boy image

LONDON: Nick Kyrgios is back in action at Wimbledon on Monday after his dramatic victory against Stefanos Tsitispas as he closes in on a mouthwatering semifinal with Rafael Nadal.
The maverick Australian toppled Tsitispas in a heated four-set thriller on Saturday, during which he called for the fourth seed to be kicked out of the tournament for hitting a ball into the crowd.
Kyrgios called the umpire a “disgrace” as tempers frayed and the bad feeling spilled over into the post-match press conferences.
The defeated Greek player said his opponent has an “evil side” and described him as a “bully,” comments that Kyrgios laughed off.
Nick Kyrgios, 40th in the world, thrives on his bad-boy image and Saturday’s outbursts were not even his first of the tournament.
But it will be a different challenge against American Brandon Nakashima, a player he has never faced before, and he may struggle to re-create the big-match intensity on Center Court.
Kyrgios, who has only reached the quarter-finals of two Grand Slams, believes he has the firepower to win Wimbledon.
“Round by round, if I keep doing my things, I feel good. I’m all right,” said the 27-year-old, who had vocal support from the crowd on Saturday despite his antics.
Nadal, chasing the third leg of a calendar Grand Slam, found his rhythm in his third-round match against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego and now faces Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion, twice a winner at the All England Club, swept into the last 16 in straight sets after needing four sets to progress in his opening two matches.
“My best match, without a doubt, since the tournament started,” said Nadal, the only top-10 player left in his side of the draw.
“I made improvements today. Very happy for that.
“I made a lot of things much better than the previous days, the determination, the way that I manage to play more aggressive, going to the net plenty of times.”