Ons Jabeur says sports and politics shouldn't mix

Special Ons Jabeur says sports and politics shouldn't mix
Ons Jabeur said that sports and politics should not mix. (Getty Images)
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Updated 28 April 2022

Ons Jabeur says sports and politics shouldn't mix

Ons Jabeur says sports and politics shouldn't mix
  • The Tunisian star’s comments come after the All England Club announced last week they would not be accepting entries for Wimbledon from Russian or Belarusian players
  • Jabeur was speaking on the sidelines of the Madrid Open where the No.8 seed kicked off her campaign with a 7-6(9), 6-1 victory over Italian Jasmine Paolini on Thursday

In light of Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players at this summer’s Championships, Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur insists that sports and politics should not mix.

The All England Club announced last week they would not be accepting entries for Wimbledon from Russian or Belarusian players due to the invasion of Ukraine — a decision that has been criticized by both WTA and ATP tours, as well as several stars of the game.

Jabeur sympathizes with her Ukrainian peers but can also understand how difficult it can be for Russian and Belarusian players to speak up against the war, and risk putting their families in danger back home.

“It’s a very tough decision, I understand what the Ukrainian people are going through and I am totally against war,” said world No.10 Jabeur.

“But what I’ve always been told for so many years is to never mix sports and politics.”

The talented North African has experienced firsthand what can happen when politics make their way into the sporting arena. She says she has received death threats in the past for supporting the Palestinian cause, and also faced backlash when she had to represent Tunisia against Israel in a Billie Jean King Cup tie two years ago.

“I’ve had some situations of my own, especially in the 2020 in BJK Cup when we were supposed to play Israel. I 100 percent feel very sorry for the Palestinian people and I feel sorry for the children that are dying every day for 74 years. So I don’t understand how it’s now okay to mix politics and sports,” said the 27-year-old.  

“What about all the other countries where people and children have been dying every day?

“For me, I don’t think we should mix politics and sports. It’s very sad what’s happening in the world and one thing I hate in this world is politics. It’s very dirty and we can never get the full picture of everything. So I hope this situation will be resolved very soon, I don’t know what’s going to happen.

“But I know that also Russians and Belarusians have their families back home, so I’m not sure how much they can talk about it.

“So it’s a very difficult situation for both, especially for Ukrainians. And honestly, I hope this war will be over soon so there will be no problems.”

She closed her remarks by urging more focus on the Palestinian cause: “But I also hope people could also look back to Palestinians because this subject really touches me as an Arab woman, it’s not fair and I hope we don’t mix politics and sports.”

Jabeur was speaking on the sidelines of the Madrid Open where the No.8 seed kicked off her campaign with a 7-6(9), 6-1 victory over Italian Jasmine Paolini on Thursday.

The first Arab tennis player — man or woman — to crack the top 10 in the world rankings, Jabeur is happy to have put the injury woes that troubled her at the start of the season behind her, and is feeling confident on clay in the build-up to next month’s Roland Garros.

She made the final on green clay in Charleston earlier this month before making the quarters on indoor clay last week.

This fortnight in the Spanish capital, Jabeur, who typically travels with her Tunisian coach Issam Jellali and her husband/fitness coach Karim Kamoun, will have some extra support from her box in the form of her sports psychologist Melanie Maillard.

“I did a few tournaments with her — one of them was Wimbledon last year,” said Jabeur, who last summer became the first Arab woman in history to make the Wimbledon quarter-finals.  

“So mentally, all of the pressure is on her, she’s got to get me ready for the tournament,” joked the Tunisian.

“Physically we tried to manage between coming from Charleston to Stuttgart to here. But I think we’re good, we’re working really well, we’re working even more than last year, I’m putting more things in place, I feel more athletic on the court, I feel more endurance on the court, so I’m liking the new me, let’s say.”

Jabeur has been one of the most consistent forces on tour over the past year-and-a-half and is keen to keep the momentum going as she chases some lofty goals.

“Honestly I’m very thankful for the team I have because they know me so well and we really discuss everything; to maintain being physically good, with Karim we’re working a great job, with Issam, with Melanie,” she added.

“I feel like we’re doing the balance to do everything right and the motivation is here. We know we have a goal to achieve and losing matches won’t help, so I feel we have to continue in this way.

“I’m just enjoying the moment right now and the most important thing for me as a player is to enjoy the moment, to enjoy being on the court because if I don’t feel motivated at all to be here then I don’t have to be here to be honest.”

Asked why she chooses to have her mental coach with her at some tournaments, Jabeur explained: “I like to have Melanie around me because we don’t do that a lot. We usually speak on WhatsApp or chat online, but I don’t like the virtual world too much, so I try to bring her as much as I can but she probably has other athletes.

“I know I just need her from time to time, I don’t really need her always because a phone call can be easy and enough for me. I felt like I needed to have her, being surrounded by two guys all the time is not good, so having a woman in my team is good.”

Jabeur next takes on either Russian qualifier Varvara Gracheva or French veteran Alize Cornet in the Madrid Open second round.


AFC U-23 Asian Cup won by Saudi Arabia was competition’s most engaging

AFC U-23 Asian Cup won by Saudi Arabia was competition’s most engaging
The AFC’s Twitter account generated the highest improvement in impressions. (@SaudiNT)
Updated 13 sec ago

AFC U-23 Asian Cup won by Saudi Arabia was competition’s most engaging

AFC U-23 Asian Cup won by Saudi Arabia was competition’s most engaging
  • Record-breaking 340m social media impressions for tourney’s 5th edition

The AFC U-23 Asian Cup won by Saudi Arabia in Uzbekistan last month saw a record-breaking 340 million social media impressions — a massive increase of 193.8 percent from the fourth edition in Thailand two years ago.

Asia’s top 16 teams competed for 19 days across 32 matches in the cities of Tashkent and Qarshi, with the Kingdom clinching the coveted fifth crown by defeating hosts Uzbekistan 2-0 in a captivating decider.

The biggest increase was observed through the video content which received 46.9 million views on the AFC’s digital platforms, a rise of 1,066 percent from the 2020 edition, while the newly launched AFC TikTok account also garnered 9.3 million views with close to a million engagements.

The AFC’s Twitter account generated the highest improvement in impressions with a 217 percent increase from 2020 to 33 million, followed by Instagram, which received 115.65 million impressions or an increase of 119 percent, while the AFC’s Facebook impressions rose by 80 percent to nearly 110 million.

At the same time, engagement on the AFC’s social media channels grew by 141.2 percent from 7.3 million in 2020 to 17.68 million in 2022. This was thanks to the multi-lingual approach through the AFC’s platforms in English, Arabic, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Thai and Vietnamese.

The AFC’s Facebook account saw the highest uptake with nearly 10 million engagements, 315 percent higher than the last edition, with the confederation’s Twitter account increasing by 84 percent to 1.6 million engagements, while Instagram rose 61 percent to 6 million engagements.

On the pitch, the continent’s attacking prowess was also palpable with a total of 81 goals scored across the 32 matches, averaging approximately two goals per match, as the young Green Falcons became the first side in the tournament’s history to maintain an unblemished defensive record across all six matches in their impressive march to the title.

The tournament also saw spectator attendance records rewritten on several occasions, with 28,670 fans gathering at the Pakhtakor Stadium when hosts Uzbekistan opened their campaign against Turkmenistan, before a notable 32,268 supporters attended the thrilling final between the host nation and Saudi Arabia.


Boost for embattled Iraq football as host of Gulf Cup 2023

Boost for embattled Iraq football as host of Gulf Cup 2023
Iraq is one of Asia’s biggest football nations. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 min 27 sec ago

Boost for embattled Iraq football as host of Gulf Cup 2023

Boost for embattled Iraq football as host of Gulf Cup 2023
  • Many delays to 25th edition of the 8-team tournament now set for next January

The 25th Gulf Cup that was scheduled to take place in December 2021 will be held in the Iraqi city of Basra in January 2023, the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation announced on Thursday. The body voted unanimously to return the competition to the country for the first time since it was staged in Baghdad back in 1979.

That was also the first time Iraq won the title and the team repeated the feat in 1984 and 1988. But the last time the eight-nation biennial tournament took place was in December 2019 in Qatar when Bahrain lifted the trophy. The 2021 version was postponed as facilities including stadiums and hotels in the southern Iraqi city were not ready. It was expected to take place in 2022 but that proved to be impossible due to a crowded international schedule, which included World Cup qualifiers, Asian Cup qualifiers and the Arab Cup, not to mention the World Cup itself.

Basra has been working hard to improve its sporting facilities and general infrastructure and after inspection by AGCFF officials, the go-ahead was given to stage the first major football competition in the country since the US-led invasion in 2003. FIFA has been concerned about the security situation in the country for a while, due to the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties and the first Gulf War in the following decade.

The prospect of eight teams — Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen —coming to the southern port city is thus a big deal for the host nation.

“Congratulations to Iraq and the dear Basra for hosting the 25th Gulf Championship,” said the country’s president Barham Salih, adding “it is a merit worthy of Iraq and its people after more than four decades deprived of that.”

Salih paid tribute to “all the governmental and popular efforts and our sports fans that contributed to achieving this achievement, which embodies the Iraqis’ ethos of generosity and hospitality.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was also delighted and promised that Basra would put on a great show.

“We congratulate our beloved Iraq and Basra after this long-awaited tournament (has been awarded to us). We promise our people and our brothers in the Gulf that this football event will be a model in football circles.”

In the almost two decades since Iraq was invaded, only in 2011 have World Cup qualifiers been held in the country due to FIFA concerns over security. There was disappointment earlier this year as the world governing body, which had originally allowed Baghdad to host March’s qualifier against the UAE, switched the game to Saudi Arabia just days before kick-off after missile attacks in the north of the country.

This latest decision could mark the beginning of a new era for Iraqi football on and off the pitch. For as long as anyone, around the age of 50 remembers, Iraq’s home games have usually taken place in third countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But once the Gulf Cup, which is not a FIFA-sanctioned competition, is done and dusted, then it is hoped that Iraq will be given the green light to play competitive games in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Iraq is one of Asia’s biggest football nations and won the 2007 Asian Cup despite the chaotic situation back home. The country has only appeared at one World Cup, back in 1986, and it is likely that there would have been other appearances had the team been allowed to play qualifiers on home soil. With the 2026 World Cup expanding to include eight automatic berths from Asia, doubling the current total of four, if the Gulf Cup leads to a change in FIFA’s stance, then Iraq will have a great chance of going to North America.

First though, there is a need to perform well off the field in January.

“We are now facing a great challenge, as we are only six months away from the start of the tournament,” said Adnan Dirjal, the president of the Iraq Football Association. “This requires everyone to do a great deal of work and to double their efforts.”

“We are looking forward to the challenge however and to welcoming the Gulf Cup to our country and putting on a great event.”


Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz leads LIV Golf Portland Invitational

Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz leads LIV Golf Portland Invitational
Carlos Ortiz watches his tee shot on 15th hole during the first round of the LIV Golf Portland Invitational tournament. (AP)
Updated 01 July 2022

Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz leads LIV Golf Portland Invitational

Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz leads LIV Golf Portland Invitational
  • Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson, one of the series’ most prized catches, was a stroke back on 68, capping his round with an unlikely par save with a shot through the trees on his final hole, where he was well right off the tee

LOS ANGELES: The first US event in the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series teed off in Oregon on Thursday.

Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz, making his LIV Golf debut, took the lead in the 54-hole event, firing seven birdies with two bogeys in a 5-under par 67 at Pumpkin Ridge near Portland, Oregon.

Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson, one of the series’ most prized catches, was a stroke back on 68, capping his round with an unlikely par save with a shot through the trees on his final hole, where he was well right off the tee.

South Africa’s Branden Grace and Japan’s Hideto Tanihara could have joined Johnson at 4-under par, but late bogeys dropped them to tied third place alongside another LIV Golf debutant, Pat Perez.

Bannered by Johnson and Perez, the Four Aces led the team championship in the LIV Golf Portland Invitational by two shots at seven-under par. The champion team in London, the all-South African squad of Stinger, were second at -5.

Aussie Wade Ormsby was the best placed Asian Tour member, tied sixth at two-under par alongside four-time major champion Brooks Koepka and South African Hennie du Plessis.

“I hit a few of them close on my first nine, but that is the difficult half of the golf course. I just played steady and made a few birdies coming in,” said Ormsby, captain of the all-Australian Punches team this week and winner of three titles on the Asian Tour, including two Hong Kong Opens.


5 players, $1.1 billion: NBA free agency starts with a bang

5 players, $1.1 billion: NBA free agency starts with a bang
Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets agreed Thursday to a $264 supermax extension. (AP)
Updated 01 July 2022

5 players, $1.1 billion: NBA free agency starts with a bang

5 players, $1.1 billion: NBA free agency starts with a bang
  • Five players — Jokic, Beal, Towns, Booker and Morant — had more than $1.1 billion in money committed to them in their new deals, highlighting the moves made Thursday when the NBA’s annual free-agent negotiating window opened

NEW YORK: The NBA generated more basketball-related income than ever this past season, the total number coming up just short of $9 billion.

Business is good. The first night of free agency underscored how good.

Nikola Jokic agreed to the biggest contract in NBA history, Bradley Beal agreed to a deal worth a quarter-billion dollars, and the money just kept flowing. 

Shortly after midnight Friday in the Eastern time zone, three more players — Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and Ja Morant — also agreed to huge-money extensions.

Towns and Booker agreed to four-year deals that will commence in 2024 and are worth at least $224 million, their agent, Jessica Holtz of CAA, said. Morant will sign his first rookie extension, one that’ll be worth at least $193 million and could reach the $230 million range, according to Tandem Sports, which represents him.

Those five players — Jokic, Beal, Towns, Booker and Morant — had more than $1.1 billion in money committed to them in their new deals, highlighting the moves made Thursday when the NBA’s annual free-agent negotiating window opened.

Jokic agreed to a supermax extension to remain with the Denver Nuggets, the two-time reigning MVP guaranteeing himself at least $264 million over five seasons starting with the 2023-24 campaign. The final number may go up slightly depending on what the league’s salary cap is going into the ‘23-24 season and if it exceeds current projections.

Beal will make $251 million over the next five seasons after re-signing with Washington, one day after turning down $37 million for this coming season from the team with whom he’s spent the entirety of his 10-year career.

Towns and Booker got their deals not long afterward, as did Morant. More big-money extensions are coming at some point, particularly rookie extensions — Miami’s Tyler Herro and New Orleans’ Zion Williamson among the names on that list.

All those moves, even the biggest-money ones, were overshadowed by a piece of non-free-agent news that came earlier Thursday when Kevin Durant, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation, told the Brooklyn Nets that he wanted a trade. That undoubtedly had some sort of an impact on the decisions some teams were making, or were considering, with the surprise development that one of the world’s elite players is looking for a new place to play.

Jokic and Beal have signed lucrative contracts before. For some, the ones they get this summer will be their first.

Jalen Brunson, as had been widely speculated given his deep ties to the Knicks — his father played there, for starters — agreed to sign with New York, on a deal that ESPN reported would be worth $104 million over four years. He had earned about $6 million, total, in his four seasons with the Dallas Mavericks and saw his value soar by averaging 21.6 points in 18 playoff games this past season.

Anfernee Simons, who had a breakout season for the injury-plagued Portland Trail Blazers last year — taking advantage of his opportunity, and then some — agreed to a four-year, $100 million contract to remain with that club. And Lu Dort, undrafted three years ago and someone who made about $4 million combined in his three seasons with Oklahoma City, will stay with the Thunder for the next five years on a deal worth nearly $88 million.

 

NBA NUMBERS

The NBA set the new salary cap, luxury tax and other numbers that will be used this coming season and go into effect Friday.

The cap is $123.655 million, the tax level is $150.267 million. The minimum team salary level is $111.29 million and the exceptions were set as wel. The non-taxpayer mid-level is $10.49 million, taxpayer mid-level is $6.479 million, and the mid-level for a team with room under the cap is $5.401 million.

TUCKER TO PHILADELPHIA

P.J. Tucker is reuniting with Philadelphia general manager Daryl Morey and — assuming he re-signs, as planned — James Harden as well. Tucker agreed Thursday to a three-year deal with the 76ers for $33 million. Morey, Tucker and Harden were together with the Houston Rockets; Harden declared free agency Wednesday with the intention of coming back to Philadelphia. Tucker won a title with Milwaukee in 2021 and helped Miami to the Eastern Conference finals in 2022.

MCGEE CHOOSES MAVERICKS

Dallas and JaVale McGee — a three-time NBA champion and an Olympic gold medalist as well — agreed on a contract for two seasons and a third at McGee’s option worth about $20 million. McGee has played for eight NBA teams and is heading to Dallas for a second time; he played 34 games there in 2015-16.

PORTIS, INGLES TO BUCKS

Bobby Portis (four years, $49 million) is returning to Milwaukee, and the Bucks are adding veteran guard Joe Ingles as well. Ingles is signing a one-year deal, according to his wife, Renae Ingles, who tweeted that “CEO of the house, Renae Ingles, is thrilled for Joe and their family.”

HEAT DECISIONS

Miami will retain Victor Oladipo on a one-year, $11 million deal and Dewayne Dedmon on a two-year deal for about $9 million, though the second year has conditional protections.

MAGIC KEEPING HARRIS

Gary Harris signed with the Orlando Magic, the team said, with the sides agreeing on two years for $26 million for the guard. The Magic are also keeping center Mo Bamba on a two-year deal.

RAPTORS MOVES

Toronto is keeping forward Chris Boucher (three years, $36 million) and Thaddeus Young (two years, $16 million).

BAGLEY STAYING

Detroit moved quickly to lock up restricted free agent Marvin Bagley III, agreeing to keep him with a three-year, $37 million deal.

WRIGHT TO WIZARDS

In addition to keeping Beal, the Wizards also agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal with guard Delon Wright.


Pogacar, Copenhagen buzzing ahead of Tour de France opener

Pogacar, Copenhagen buzzing ahead of Tour de France opener
Updated 01 July 2022

Pogacar, Copenhagen buzzing ahead of Tour de France opener

Pogacar, Copenhagen buzzing ahead of Tour de France opener
  • The sport’s greatest race attracts up to 15 million roadside fans per year and the opening three days in cycling-obsessed Denmark on the 109th edition will provide the same festive atmosphere so beloved to the French
  • The first of the 21 stages is a short, fast, technically and psychologically challenging 13.2km individual time trial around downtown Copenhagen

COPENHAGEN: Fans and riders were buzzing with excitement as the Tour de France’s Grand Depart arrived on Friday while globally over a billion television spectators are also expected to tune in over the 21 days.

When the fresh-faced 23-year-old champion Tadej Pogacar said he was thrilled with the Danish public and could not wait to get started, the sentiment was widely shared.

The sport’s greatest race attracts up to 15 million roadside fans per year and the opening three days in cycling-obsessed Denmark on the 109th edition will provide the same festive atmosphere so beloved to the French.

“I’m ready personally and my team is ready too, and you can only be happy with the kind of reception we have had here,” said UAE Team Emirates leader Pogacar.

Belgian powerhouse Wout Van Aert, winner of a time-trial, a sprint and a mountain stage at the 2021 Tour, was also buzzing after two editions impacted by COVID-19.

“I was surprised by the amount of people on the road sides. After two years, we can finally have a Grand Depart with huge crowds,” he said.

The first of the 21 stages is a short, fast, technically and psychologically challenging 13.2km individual time trial around downtown Copenhagen.

Contestants compete on specialized bikes for the time-trial that would be too dangerous for any casual cyclist to ride.

They also wear tailored aerodynamic outfits that cost up to and above €4,000 ($4,161).

Frenchman Jeremy Lecroq will be the first rider down the starters ramp at 1600 (1400GMT) outside the Tivoli theme park and next to Copenhagen’s eye-catching central train station with its gothic wooden balustrades and tiled interior.

The 176 riders embark at one-minute intervals with UAE Emirates’ Marc Soler the last to go at 1855 (1655GMT).

Ineos’ world champion time-triallist Filippo Ganna accepted his favorite tag to win the opener and thereby don the overall race leader’s jersey.

“It would be nice to wear the yellow jersey, nothing is easy but I want to try and put that in my museum,” the Italian said.

Saturday’s second stage runs 202.5km from Roskilde to Nyborg along verdant roads adjacent to fjords and it culminates with a 20km crossing of the Great Belt Bridge.

Sunday’s final day in Denmark is a 182km run from Vejl to Sonderborg.

The Tour de France caravan transfers to France next Monday for a treacherous week featuring old, cobbled mining roads.

The race then heads across the Alps, including an epic climb up the legendary Alpe d’Huez, and into the Pyrenees where the equally fearsome Hautacam summit awaits.

If those mountains have not been enough to produce a winner, the 40.7km individual time-trial ending in Rocamadour on the penultimate stage should do the trick.

While Pogacar is the best rider, Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma appear to be the strongest team, and the once mighty Ineos have promised to race aggressively to wrestle back the title.