Blackburn become first British football club to host Eid prayers on pitch

Blackburn become first British football club to host Eid prayers on pitch
Blackburn Rovers have become the first British club to host Eid prayers on their ground, Ewood Park. (www.rovers.co.uk)
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Updated 03 May 2022

Blackburn become first British football club to host Eid prayers on pitch

Blackburn become first British football club to host Eid prayers on pitch
  • 1995 Premier League champions invited local Muslims to celebrate religious festival at Ewood Park

LONDON: Hundreds of British Muslims in Blackburn, northern England, flocked to their local football club’s ground on Monday to conduct Eid prayers on the pitch.

Blackburn Rovers have become the first British club to host Eid prayers on their ground, Ewood Park, with footage captured by locals and the football club showing half the pitch covered with prayer mats.

A sermon was conducted at the football ground, which is supported by many British Muslims in one of the country’s most densely populated Muslim areas.

Rovers tweeted: “Eid Mubarak from everyone at Blackburn Rovers. This morning #Rovers became the first football club in the country to host Eid prayers on the pitch.”

New arrivals to the town expressed their delight at the football club’s Eid prayers initiative. “Eid for Muslims is something very special, gathering all the relatives together,” Sudan-born Ahmed Khalifa, 37, who arrived from the UAE just four months ago, told The Guardian. “This time, for us especially, we miss our relatives so much.”

He added: “So it was a very big deal for us to have this group of people. So happy to see all these people there. The people of Blackburn, they all seem like part of a community, but for me coming new to this city … now I’m feeling like a part of the community.”

Muslims from across the world praised Blackburn for hosting the prayers, with tweeters based in the Middle East and North Africa announcing that they were now supporting Rovers after the move.

One student tweeted: “My newfound team, Insha Allah. Thank you Blackburn Rovers.” 

Mohamed Haouari, an Algerian based in Qatar, said: “Blackburn Rovers are massive.”

But while Blackburn were the first British football club to host Eid prayers on its pitch, it was not the only British sporting establishment to invite Muslims to pray at its facilities.

In Birmingham, often dubbed Britain’s second city, Edgbaston cricket ground partnered with a local mosque to host Eid prayers at its training ground.

Larger congregations were held across the country, with 30,000 gathering at Small Heath park in Birmingham and 20,000 attending prayers at Manchester’s Platt Fields park.


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.”


Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur’s date with history

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur’s date with history
Updated 06 July 2022

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur’s date with history

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur’s date with history
  • Coach Nabil Mlika recalls training a talented girl ‘determined to stand out’ against both female and male peers

HAMMAM SOUSSE, Tunisia: Ons Jabeur will make history on Thursday when she walks on to the Centre Court at Wimbledon as the first Arab woman to compete in a Grand Slam semifinal.

Fifteen years ago, Ons Jabeur’s young tennis sparring partner could see the Tunisian was destined for glory — even if he suffered a broken arm in the process.

Omar Laabidi remembers being repeatedly beaten by a 12-year-old Jabeur.

“We used to call her ‘Roger Federer’,” Laabidi said.

He was talking at the tennis club where it all began, in the North African country’s coastal town of Hammam Sousse.

“One time during a training match she hit a drop shot that I tried so hard to return that I broke my arm,” he said.

Jabeur had started by playing on courts belonging to local hotels but she soon joined the Tennis Club Hammam Sousse, which now bears a huge portrait of its most famous graduate.

Coach Nabil Mlika recalls training a talented girl “determined to stand out” against both female and male peers.

It is a determination that has taken her all the way to the world No. 2  spot — one place behind Poland’s Iga Swiatek.

But Mlika, who trained a young Jabeur for 10 years, said there was a moment where she almost quit the sport.

“She had great ball control, to the point where other coaches tried to attract her to handball,” said the 55-year-old.

“Ons thought seriously about switching sports — but decided to stick to tennis.”

The 27-year-old Tunisian’s fighting spirit has been on show throughout her career.

Despite crashing out in the first round of the French Open in May, she surged back to win the Berlin WTA singles title a few weeks later.

Her appearance in the Wimbledon semis — against close friend and ‘barbecue buddy’ Tatjana Maria — comes just two weeks after she was forced to withdraw from the Eastbourne tournament, where she was partnering Serena Williams in the doubles, with a knee injury.

Jabeur, known to many Tunisians as “the minister for happiness,” was born in the southern coastal town of Ksar Hellal, one of four siblings.

She moved to the capital, Tunis, at the age of 12 to train at a highly rated state-backed sports club.

She has been married to her physical trainer, and former fencer, Karim Kamoun, since 2015.

The right-hander is known for her stamina and the variety of her play.

 

 

“She hates playing at one pace,” said Mlika. “She’s always trying to create a spectacle by switching up the game with shots that surprise her opponents, especially with drop shots.

“She’s really the queen of the drop shot.”

Jabeur made a splash on the global scene in 2011, winning the girls’ singles at the French Open at the age of 16.

Laabidi also moved to Tunis around the same time as the adolescent Jabeur and joined the same academy, where they continued sparring.

“She was always fun and quickly got to know strangers,” he said.

“But she was always provocative and competitively debating on all subjects.”

Those who knew her as a teenager say she has changed little despite her growing fame.

“She still runs around gathering up all the balls during training, which she’s been doing since she started playing,” said Mlika.

Unsurprisingly, as her fame has spiralled membership levels have skyrocketed at her home club, from 320 in 2018 to more than 700 today.

For Yousra Koubaa, the mother of eight-year-old student Yasmine, Jabeur is “an example of hope, one we’re always showing to our children.”

Mlika says he uses photos of a young Jabeur to inspire his students today.

“She was a spark of enthusiasm, always moving and wanting to show that she was the best,” he said.

“She always put me in a difficult position because I had to balance between taking the training up a level, or waiting for her peers to catch up with her level and her pace.”