Al-Ittihad’s Fahad Al-Muwallad faces probe after failed drug test

Al-Ittihad’s Fahad Al-Muwallad faces probe after failed drug test
Al-Ittihad football club had received a notice two days earlier from the Saudi Doping Commission that the test on its striker returned a positive result. (Twitter: @ittihad)
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Updated 04 April 2022

Al-Ittihad’s Fahad Al-Muwallad faces probe after failed drug test

Al-Ittihad’s Fahad Al-Muwallad faces probe after failed drug test
  • ‘Action with Walid’, the daily sports program broadcast on MBC Action, reported that the Saudi forward is being investigated by the Saudi Arabia Anti-Doping Committee

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad and Saudi national team striker Fahad Al-Muwallad is being investigated by the Saudi Arabia Anti-Doping Committee amid allegations that he failed a drug test, according to “Action with Walid,” the daily sports program broadcast on MBC action.

This marks the second time in three years that Al-Muwallad has failed an out-of-competition drug test. He accepted a one-year ban from SAADC on May 9, 2019 due to the use of prohibited substances during the team’s match against Al-Nasr in April 2018, within the Saudi Professional League.

The daily program revealed on Thursday that Al-Ittihad football club, which sits on top of the standings table of the Saudi Professional League, had received a notice two days earlier from the Saudi Doping Commission that the test on its striker returned a positive result and the final decision would be made after a hearing session.

The player and club are cooperating and responding directly with the SAADC. The player is now subject to a playing suspension locally and internationally while the matter is under investigation.

No official information about the suspension and the nature of the doping violation has been made by the SAADC until now.

A positive test for a banned substance that is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list can lead to a four-year suspension.

The 27-year-old Al-Muwallad is one of the Kingdom’s most celebrated players, having scored the goal against Japan that took Saudi Arabia to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

He started his professional career with Al-Ittihad when he was 16, and at 18 Al-Muwallad made his first team debut and scored his first senior goal for Saudi Arabia against China in an Asian Cup qualifier. From there he has become a regular squad inclusion for the Saudi national team.

He also played for Spanish club Levante UD in the final minutes of the league clash away to Leganes in 2018, when on loan ahead of the World Cup.


Zion Williamson, Pelicans aim to end ‘negative’ narratives

Zion Williamson, Pelicans aim to end ‘negative’ narratives
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson shakes hands with VP of basketball operations David Griffin. (AP)
Updated 07 July 2022

Zion Williamson, Pelicans aim to end ‘negative’ narratives

Zion Williamson, Pelicans aim to end ‘negative’ narratives
  • Williamson appears healthy now, cleared by the club to engage in basketball activities without restrictions

NEW ORLEANS: A few months after Zion Williamson was left entirely out of Pelicans promotional material regarding ticket renewals, the injury-riddled star forward was back to being celebrated Wednesday as a supremely influential figure in New Orleans’ future.

“The last few months were a roller-coaster of emotions,” Williamson said. “The world just ran with narratives, and so when my family was going out in public, they’re getting harassed by people about why we don’t like New Orleans or why we don’t want to be here, when that’s not the case at all.

“I wasn’t able to play because my foot was broke,” Williamson continued. “Every time I checked my phone it’s always something negative. Even when you’re trying to make positive of the situation, it was very tough.”

So the Pelicans used the occasion of Williamson signing a $193 million, five-year contract extension — which could be worth up to $231 million if the explosive, 6-foot-6, 280-pounder lives up to the potential he’s displayed when healthy — to try to dispel past notions of distrust and start a new narrative.

“This is a really momentous occasion for all of us,” said David Griffin, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “This is an opportunity for us as an organization to really put to bed a lot of things that were said.

“So many things that are talked about are just words,” Griffin continued as Williamson nodded in agreement beside him. “What Zion Williamson did today is express his commitment to this team and to this city and to this community. ... So the noise that’s on the periphery of all of that is completely irrelevant.”

Williamson appears healthy now, cleared by the club to engage in basketball activities without restrictions. Recently, he and his stepfather, Lee Anderson, have been running basketball camps for kids at a New Orleans YMCA, where Williamson formally signed his contract while campers stood behind him and applauded.

It also was Williamson’s 22nd birthday, and he commented, while grabbing Griffin’s shoulder and smiling, that it was his best birthday yet.

“Thank y’all for really sticking with me the past year,” Williamson said to the Pelicans’ brass. “It was a tough year, and then for the Pelicans to come give this birthday gift, I’m not going to let ‘em down. I’m not going to let the city down, I’m not going to let my family down, and most of all, I’m not going to let myself down.”

Now the 2019 No. 1 overall draft choice out of Duke, who has played in just 85 games in his first three seasons, is primed to see how much his return could help a squad that improved dramatically late last season and made a surprisingly competitive playoff showing without him.

Griffin, meanwhile, sees his vision for building a young team set up for sustained success coming together under Willie Green, who in his first season as an NBA head coach shepherded the team from a 1-12 start to postseason qualification, two play-in victories and two more victories in a first-round series against top-seeded Phoenix.

“We feel like with the team we have assembled, with Zion as an enormous part of that, coach Green and his staff are going to be able to put together an incredible run,” Griffin said. “We’re young, we’re talented and most importantly we are very hungry.”

Williamson played in just 24 games as a rookie because of a preseason right knee injury (lateral meniscus). In his second season, he played in 61 of 72 games, averaging a team-high 27 points and becoming a first-time All-Star during what was his lone NBA campaign not mostly or entirely wiped out by injuries.

“Zion is a huge part of what we want to accomplish,” Green said, noting that Williamson will periodically initiate the offense handling the ball as he did successfully in is second season. “It’s not necessarily him fitting in. He can do that with any team in the league. It’s about maximizing the group that we have when we had him to it. And, frankly, I think it’s going to be scary for the rest of the NBA.”

Williamson said he is focused on adopting strategies meant to preserve his health and promote career longevity — but cutting down on vigorous, high-flying dunks in favor of lower-impact layups probably won’t be one of them.

“I’m a competitor, so when I’m on the court, I’m not thinking about, ”Let me lay this ball in; hopefully my career will last longer,’” Williamson asserted with a playful grin. “No, I’m thinking about putting that person through the rim. So, as far as me dunking, that’s going to always happen. That’s going to stay happening, no matter what (team trainers and management) are talking about. I’m always dunking. Come on, man!”


All eyes on Banchero, as NBA Summer League is set to open

All eyes on Banchero, as NBA Summer League is set to open
Updated 07 July 2022

All eyes on Banchero, as NBA Summer League is set to open

All eyes on Banchero, as NBA Summer League is set to open
  • The crowds do come for these games; in 2018, Summer League set a total attendance record of 139,972 and in 2019, a per-day average record was set of 12,199 fans

LAS VEGAS: In Las Vegas, there’s always a big show happening.

Welcome to the stage, Paolo Banchero. He’s about to have his opening night.

NBA Summer League starts Thursday in Las Vegas, with Banchero — the now-former Duke star forward who was the No. 1 pick last month — set to play in the opening game when the Orlando Magic take on No. 3 pick Jabari Smith Jr. and the Houston Rockets in the first contest of the 11-day showcase.

“It’s great,” Banchero said Wednesday as the Magic wrapped up practice in one of the two UNLV arenas where games will be taking place. “You know, I get to come out here, have all these people come watch, watch me put on a show. I love when big crowds are out, when all the cameras are out, that’s when I play my best. So, I’m looking forward to it and it’s going to be fun.”

The crowds do come for these games; in 2018, Summer League set a total attendance record of 139,972 and in 2019, a per-day average record was set of 12,199 fans. That’s all pre-COVID, of course, and the league is hoping this summer league — even with the pandemic still very much happening — is back to those sorts of numbers.

And a glitzy matchup to get things started, two of the top three picks in the first game, seems fitting.

“I want to feel like I played hard all week, no matter how long I’m there, no matter if I’m making shots, missing shots, I want to know that I was out there competing, out there listening, out there learning,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, all this is new to me.”

He’s not alone there. For most players taking part over the next 11 days, this is new. Some have played in Las Vegas before, maybe in AAU games, or high school, or in college. A few have even participated in Summer League before — but there are some who are seeing Las Vegas for the first time as well.

“I’m looking forward to walking around and seeing some things,” Miami rookie Nikola Jovic said. “When I have time.”

Every NBA team has a summer squad in Las Vegas, all set to play five games. The first four games for each team will go into standings that will determine which two will play on July 17 for a title, though the trophy can be viewed as an ancillary part of Summer League.

Sacramento won Summer League last season; probably only the most ardent basketball fans know that. But moments stand out — such as No. 1 pick Zion Williamson of New Orleans ripping the ball away from New York’s Kevin Knox in the 2019 Summer League and getting a dunk.

That play, people remember. Williamson didn’t finish that game because of a knee injury, and the game itself ended eight minutes early because an earthquake struck 150 miles from Las Vegas but left the scoreboards at UNLV shaking to the point where officials weren’t sure if the contest could safely continue. New Orleans won. The outcome didn’t matter.

Same goes for whatever will happen at UNLV starting on Thursday night. A team will end up winning the title and get a trophy and T-shirts and hats on July 17, but it’s the moments — like the debut of a No. 1 pick — that tend to stand out.

“I think Paolo is probably one of the most prepared individuals for that situation that have ever come along in the NBA,” said Orlando assistant Jesse Mermuys, who will coach the summer league team. “His season at Duke, I don’t know if there’s much more pressure than that. And so, he’s already prepared. You can tell. His parents have done a great job with him.”

Banchero has spent the last couple of weeks living out of a suitcase, getting to know new summer teammates — most of whom won’t be on the Magic roster when the real NBA season starts in mid-October — and starting to forge relationships with the Orlando veterans as well.

Whatever happens Thursday night, it’s just a starting point.

“I know who I am,” Banchero said. “I know what I bring. Whether I have a great game or a bad game, I’m never going to get too high, never going to get too low. I hold myself to high standards. So, really, in my head it’s just me vs. me. I’m not worried about what other people are doing. I’m not worried about what other people think. It’s just kind of how I see myself and whether I’m happy with how I played or not.”


Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw

Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw
Updated 07 July 2022

Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw

Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw
  • The 35-year-old Australian Clarke used a bike throw on the line in a razor thin victory over Taco van der Hoorn after Native American Neilson Powless launched a sprint in a bid for the yellow jersey but fell just short

ARENBERG, France: Simon Clarke of Israel Premier Tech won stage five of the Tour de France on Wednesday in a photo finish after a 157km run from Lille to Arenberg featuring 20km of cobbled mining roads.

Belgium’s Wout van Aert of Jumbo retained his overall leader’s yellow jersey despite a nasty fall, but his teammate Primoz Roglic lost around two minutes to defending champion and fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.

The 35-year-old Australian Clarke used a bike throw on the line in a razor thin victory over Taco van der Hoorn after Native American Neilson Powless launched a sprint in a bid for the yellow jersey but fell just short.

“What a year,” said Clarke, who got a last-minute contract with the IPT team in December after leaving EF. “I’m ever the optimist.

“I just told myself not to panic even when the sprint started almost 1km out,” he said about the finale.

“I sat back in the slipstream, waited and waited and went for the line at the last second,” he said.

Van Aert fell early and hurt a shoulder and was almost run over by his own team car, but rallied to cling on to his overall lead by 13sec from Powless of EF.

The race goes to his native Belgium on Thursday where he can parade through 60km of roads there in the yellow jersey.

“That’s part of why I dug so deep,” he said. “But this wan’t what we had planned this morning.”

Defending champion Pogacar did the best of the pretenders to the 2022 title when he finished seventh, 51sec off the lead, putting a little time into all his rivals after threatening to pulverise them before fading in the final kilometers.

“I like the cobbles,” smiled the 23-year-old UAE leader.

“I had no bad luck, felt good and played it intelligently at the end when I knew I wouldn’t catch the leaders,” he said.

Pogacar retains the best placed under-26’s white jersey.

Ineos trio Adam yates, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas all hung in and trail Pogacar by 28, 29 and 30sec respectively.

The treacherous stage raced over cobbles was doubly dangerous due to dust billowing from the bone dry surface among the corn, wheat and potato fields making it tough to breath and easy to slip.

Eleven cobbled sections totalling almost 20km of bone shaking mining roads caused much of the chaos but not all of it.

Roglic, runner-up in 2020, was brought down after Caleb Ewan collided with a stray hay bale, the Jumbo man then hitting him and struggling thereafter.

He finished 44th on the day, 2min 36sec off the lead.

Embarking from the chic northern city of Lille, good humored crowds along the roadside thickened as the race hit the cobbles in the finale.

But a grim-faced Mathieu van der Poel, a pre-race favorite, was dropped by the lead group 30km out.

Visible for his polka-dot jersey and handle-bar moustache, Magnus Cort-Nielsen was once again in the thick of the action finishing fifth and retaining the King of the Mountains shirt he took in his native Denmark on stage two.

Thursday’s sixth stage starts in the Belgian town of Binche and returns to France in the Ardennes forest for what should be a splintered finale with two short steep climbs.


Putellas loss strikes blow to Spain’s hopes of Euro 2022 breakthrough

Putellas loss strikes blow to Spain’s hopes of Euro 2022 breakthrough
Updated 07 July 2022

Putellas loss strikes blow to Spain’s hopes of Euro 2022 breakthrough

Putellas loss strikes blow to Spain’s hopes of Euro 2022 breakthrough
  • The Barcelona midfielder was expected to be one of the shining lights of the tournament until she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in training on Tuesday

MADRID: Spain’s ambitions of a breakthrough on the women’s international stage at Euro 2022 have been rocked by a sickening knee injury to reigning Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas.
The Barcelona midfielder was expected to be one of the shining lights of the tournament until she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in training on Tuesday.
Spain had been pre-tournament favorites with the bookmakers thanks to the rise of Barca as a dominant force of the club game.
However, Putellas is the second key player ruled out in a matter of weeks after all-time top goalscorer Jennifer Hermoso also suffered a knee injury.
“23 Alexias....for one dream,” Spanish sports daily Marca splashed across their front page on Wednesday with a picture of the remaining squad members.
But there is no sugar-coating how devastating a blow to Spain’s chances losing Putellas is.
The 28-year-old has become a icon at the Camp Nou with 90,000 chanting her name during Barca’s Champions League win over Real Madrid earlier this year that broke the world record for attendance at a women’s match.
“Yesterday was the day to accept it,” said Putellas’ club and international teammate Patricia Guijarro on Wednesday.
“We are desperate to get started and now we are triply determined.”
Guijarro is one of nine Barcelona players still in the squad.
Barca Femeni cruised to the Spanish title last season with 30 wins out of 30, scoring 159 goals and conceding just 11.
They also made the Champions League final, although missed out on retaining the trophy, and a treble, after being pipped in the final by Lyon.

The question remains whether the rise of the Catalan giants could launch Spain in a similar fashion to when Pep Guardiola’s Barca laid the platform for the men’s Spanish side to win two Euros in 2008 and 2012, as well as the World Cup in between.
“We are players who have been together for many years, we know each other very well,” said Leila Ouahabi, who has just left Barca for a move to Manchester City.
“We have a lot of understanding, it is good and positive to have that connection with those teammates that you have been getting to know closely for years.”
Irene Paredes and Mapi Leon will still form arguably the most distinguished defensive pairing in the tournament.
Guijarro and Aitana Bonmati’s presence mean Spain will also still have one of the most talented midfields despite Putellas’ injury.
But there is little time for La Roja to lick their wounds as they find themselves in the group of death alongside eight-time winners Germany, 2017 finalists Denmark and Finland.
It is 25 years since Spain last reached even the semifinals at a Women’s Euro, while at the World Cup, their best performance was when they went out to the United States in the last 16 three years ago.
Now they have to handle the weight of huge expectation as well as the loss of their biggest name.
“It seems that if we don’t win or get knocked out, it’ll be a drama,” said Leon.
“From the outside there is unnecessary pressure. Inside the squad, everything is super-positive and everyone is really looking forward to the tournament, but it’s not easy.”


Mead gives England winning start in Women's European Championship

Mead gives England winning start in Women's European Championship
Updated 07 July 2022

Mead gives England winning start in Women's European Championship

Mead gives England winning start in Women's European Championship
  • The narrow margin of victory reflected a close game in which England dominated possession but couldn’t create enough clear chances to match their more convincing pre-tournament wins over teams like Belgium, Denmark and the defending champion Netherlands

MANCHESTER, England: Beth Mead scored the only goal of the game as host England beat Austria 1-0 in front of a tournament-record crowd of 68,871 at Old Trafford in the Women’s European Championship opener on Wednesday.

Mead skillfully flicked the ball over Austria goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger in the 16th minute but it needed goal-line technology to prove it had just crossed the line before being cleared.

“What an amazing night, it’s great to start the tournament with a win and I’m glad to get a goal for my team,” Mead told the BBC. “I was pretty sure it went over (the line) but you always doubt yourself.”

The narrow margin of victory reflected a close game in which England dominated possession but couldn’t create enough clear chances to match their more convincing pre-tournament wins over teams like Belgium, Denmark and the defending champion Netherlands.

The 16-team tournament kicked off a year later than originally scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic. It carries hopes that it will further boost the fast-growing audience for women’s soccer in Europe, and UEFA has said more than 500,000 tickets have been sold. The previous record attendance for a European Championship game was 41,301 for the 2013 final between Germany and Norway at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.

Since the last tournament in 2017, England has been at the forefront of that development as Women’s Super League clubs signed many of the world’s best players and increased revenue and TV audiences. Now unbeaten in 15 games over the last year, the England national team is still seeking a first major tournament title.

Austria was a surprise semifinalist in the 2017 European Championship on its only previous appearance, when it conceded one goal in five games and only lost in a penalty shootout.

England goalkeeper Mary Earps stopped Austria getting a point Wednesday when she dived at full stretch in the 78th to stop Barbara Dunst’s dangerous curling shot.

England could earlier have scored more when Ellen White headed wide in the 26th and Zinsberger reacted quickly to keep out Lauren Hemp’s effort in first-half stoppage time.

“We should have scored a couple of times to make it easier, but overall I’m very happy. We have a win, and don’t underestimate Austria — they are a very well-organized team,” England manager Sarina Wiegman, who coached the Netherlands to the 2017 title, told the BBC. “I’m not frustrated, I just think we can do better. Sometimes we rushed. We have to be a little calmer in the final stage.”