Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages

Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages
This has been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs, especially Jordanian businessman Wael Al-Qadi and his club Bristol Rovers as they celebrated their automatic promotion to League One on Saturday. (Twitter)
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Updated 21 May 2022

Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages

Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages
  • It’s been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs, but few stories can compare to Bristol Rovers’ automatic promotion to League One
  • May 7, 2022, and Bristol Rovers are playing Scunthorpe United at the Memorial Stadium with an automatic place in League One on the line

DUBAI: Time was running out and a fifth, sixth, and seventh goal were needed.
They would, astonishingly, arrive, because that’s what football miracles are made of.
But we’re jumping ahead.
This has been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs.
Manchester City are on the brink of retaining their Premier League title. Newcastle United have pulled off a record-breaking escape from relegation and are looking toward a bright future. And Wigan have gained promotion to the Championship.
But for sheer drama, none of these stories can quite compete with that of Bristol Rovers, owned by Jordanian businessman Wael Al-Qadi.
At one point, the club was second to bottom in League Two, 91st out of 92 clubs in the pyramid of English football. To say promotion to League One was against the odds would barely scratch the surface of the events of the season.
“It was one of the most crazy, demanding seasons, really tiring because we went through it all, the lowest of the low to the highest of the high,” said Al-Qadi. “In a normal season, I’m here 50 percent of the time, I attend 50 percent of the games, but this season, because of what was going on, the upheaval in the club, going from rock bottom, I was here a lot more. And as a result, negativity and stress and lots of problems arose from within the club, and around the club there was pressure on me to get rid of the manager (Joey Barton). It was basically a revolt from within the club to make change.”
Some difficult decisions had to be taken, ones that have been vindicated spectacularly.
“I stuck with him and as a result, I cleaned house in the club, everybody was just pushed out and I appointed the new CEO (Tom Gorringe) who was with us as a commercial director, he became the youngest CEO in English football. Sweeping changes all across the club in all the departments brought in new, young, energized people.
“The combination of Tom, Joe, and me we rode out the storm, and results started to happen,” he added. “It went from a total negative dark place to be, to a ride of success which was fantastic. The quality of football being played, the goals, fairytale gains, being 3-1 down with 18 minutes left to win 4-3 in the 95th minute, stuff like that. It’s just incredible.
“And then the final game of the season, ‘the miracle’ I call it, a footballing miracle, to witness that was just unbelievable. And then what happened after the celebrations. The whole city, for not only that night, for days and weeks, they’re still talking about and it will go down in the folklore of the club as one of the greatest achievements ever.”
May 7, 2022, and Bristol Rovers are playing Scunthorpe United at the Memorial Stadium with an automatic place in League One on the line. But they trail Northampton Town, second in League Two and playing at Barrow, on goal difference.
“Going into the game, it (automatic promotion) was unlikely, we had to first of all win by five goals just to catch up and hope at the same time, if we didn’t do that hope we win and Northampton draws or loses,” said Al-Qadi.
“So I asked the manager, ‘Are we going for it? And he was like, hell yes. So I knew we were gonna attack and go for goal difference because we’re not relying on the other teams to do us favors. So the lineup was totally attacking, we put in wing-backs who are wingers actually, we changed the line up to basically nine attackers and just two defenders and I knew we were gonna go for it.”
What happened next defied all footballing logic.
“So we started off well but then the news filtered in, 1-0 Northampton, then 2-0 Northampton, then 3-0 Northampton, so you’re kind of deflated, and you start thinking, okay, at least we’re in the playoffs, it’s not the end of the world. And then we scored a goal, and we scored another goal. And Barrow scored the goal. That’s three goals wiped off the deficit of eight.
“So at halftime, there were five to go, and honestly I thought that it was doable because I know we were going to go all-out attack. I know that we’re one of the fittest teams in the league, I know that a lot of our goals are scored in the last 15 minutes, so it was just me expecting the next goal to go in
“And then after that went in, I was like, okay, when’s the fourth going in? And then, okay, when’s the fifth going in? Then the sixth goal (on 79 minutes). And then when the seventh goal went in (85), I lost it completely. It was, it was just incredible.”
Having pulled off the impossible, there was a brief, but terrifying, concern that it could all be in vain when the fans invaded the pitch before its conclusion, with the referee taking the players into the dressing rooms for 15 minutes.
“We were under the whim of this referee,” Al-Qadi said. “His decision could cost us, basically, promotion. So I went down on the pitch and addressed the crowd, ‘Please do not come onto the pitch’, because this referee could abandon the game again.”
After Barton addressed the crowd as well, the match was completed and the celebrations could start all over again.
Al-Qadi’s faith in his players to pull off the result was not based on blind optimism either. Increasingly throughout the season, the team had shown a capacity to score very late, decisive goals, a legacy of their improved fitness.
“When Joe came in, he realized that we were way behind in standards in fitness and sports science and nutrition,” he said. “So he did a complete overhaul in that department and he brought in people who he knows and trusts and who he’d worked with before. For example, we got in Tom Short, ‘Shorty,’ from Premier League Burnley. He had treated Joe when he was a player at Burnley and got him fit again, so he knows his capabilities.”
Al-Qadi calls Short and all the backroom staff “unsung heroes” for their part in the promotion.
“Joe built a super fit team that lasts beyond the 90 minutes, you could see it throughout the season, where other teams drop off around the 75th minute, and we keep on going. We’re fitter, we’re stronger, and the results speak for themselves.”
A week before the promotion was secured, Bristol Rovers had pulled off another miracle away at Rochdale. Losing 3-2 into stoppage time, Barton’s team somehow managed to turn almost defeat into a 4-3 win, a match Al-Qadi watched with the traveling support.
“It’s just crazy, I wanted to get on the pitch,” said Al-Qadi. “What a day. We had to win to keep up with everyone at one stage, we win, we are losing, we were out of the playoffs. Imagine we were losing 3-1 with 18 minutes left, we were out of the playoffs. Even going to the 90th minute, we’re losing 3-2, two out, and then all of a sudden we’re in and then the next week, we get promoted. It’s crazy.”
Rovers took more than 2,000 fans to Rochdale and Al-Qadi’s presence in the stands was proof that six years after taking over the club he is as much a fan as he is an owner.
“You have to enjoy it,” he said. “You have to because there’s so much stress and anger and you know, falling out with people and people don’t see that, it’s not just about watching a football game and enjoying it. So I guess it’s like a balance with all the joy you get. It balances out all the other negative stuff that you have to deal with, and we have dealt with, and how the season was crazy.”
With no stress of a playoff to worry about, the Bristol Rovers fans have been wallowing in the joy of “the miracle” and the chairman is enjoying the ride even as, behind the scenes, preparations for League One are already taking place.
“You should see the fans. I mean, my God stories of lost ones, dear ones, that they bring their pictures of the dear ones to the game. And after promotion, they just put that picture up and take a memory picture for them. It’s done for them. It’s so many stories, you know, it’s just unbelievable. I met a guy who flew in from Australia just for this game. And I was so relieved for him, because imagine if we didn’t make it.
“And another guy from Canada,” he added. “I was picking up my son at the airport in the morning. He came in from the US, and I was stopped by the flight steward who recognized me, (he) came up and said, ‘I just flew in from Ireland. I’m gonna go get changed and go to the game.’ It’s just beautiful stories.
“They’re over the moon, they’re just really happy,” Al-Qadi said. “They’re loving the football we’re playing at the moment. They say it’s the best football they’ve ever seen. It’s really satisfactory to hear that.”


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 54 min 39 sec ago

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.”


French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism
Updated 04 July 2022

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism
  • Event grew out of local tournaments in France's suburbs where former immigrants have lived for generations
  • Competition challenges French ideals of a colorblind republic that doesn’t identify people by ethnic background

CRETEIL, France: An amateur football tournament in France aimed at celebrating ethnic diversity is attracting talent scouts, sponsors and increasing public attention, by uniting young players from low-income neighborhoods with high-profile names in the sport.

The National Neighborhoods Cup is intended to shine a positive spotlight on working-class areas with large immigrant populations that some politicians and commentators scapegoat as breeding grounds for crime, riots and extremism.

Players with Congolese heritage beat a team with Malian roots 5-4 on Saturday in the one-month tournament’s final match, held at the home stadium of a third-division French team in the Paris suburb of Creteil. The final was broadcast live on Prime Video.

The event competition grew out of local tournaments modeled after the African Cup of Nations that have been held in recent years in suburbs and towns across France where former immigrants with African backgrounds have lived for years or generations. This tournament, however was broader, and international in scope.

Along with teams from former French colonies in Africa, the participants included teams from European nations like Portugal and Italy. Players from France’s former colonies in Asia also competed.

The tournament, which was launched in 2019, challenges the French ideal of a colorblind republic that doesn’t count or identify people by race or ethnic background. The ideal was intended to provide equal opportunity by treating everyone as simply French; in practice, people in places like Creteil experience discrimination and ethnic tensions daily.

HIGHLIGHT

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We are Afro-descendants, we are claiming our roots and we are proud,” said tournament founder Moussa Sow, who works at the Red Cross and grew up in a Creteil neighborhood with a tough reputation. “It’s not because we carry this heritage that we are going to erase our French identity.”

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We have players who have two or three nationalities. It is a strength for us, a richness,” Sow told The Associated Press.

Sow witnessed firsthand the growing tensions among young people divided into rival groups according to which quarter of Creteil they were from, and wanted to gather inhabitants around the love of football and a celebration of cultural heritage.

Mohamed Diamé, who made 31 appearances for Senegal and played for West Ham and Newcastle in the English Premier League, former Mali and Paris Saint-Germain defender Sammy Traoré and Senegal manager Aliou Cisse all took part. In February, Cisse became a national hero after guiding Senegal to long-awaited victory in the African Cup of Nations.

Traore and Diame both made it to the top level in football and both grew up in Creteil, providing an example to young people that success is within their reach, too.

“I started my first training here when I was 7. I considered people from this neighborhood as brothers,” Diamé told the AP. “This feels like a pro tournament. We have a group chat, we support each other, we are determined.”

The amateur cup has grown since Sow started in 2019. Colorful placards of multinationals and local companies sponsoring the event were seen around the field. Young people and families can grab a merguez sandwich — a spicy sausage of North African origin long popular around France’s football stadiums — or other snacks and sing along to popular French songs, played by a DJ near the field.

“I am happy and proud, despite the anxious climate in France, to see people of different generations gathering,” Sow said.

Even though the tournament is strictly amateur, the technical level among players was good. At last weekend’s semifinals, high-quality cross-field passes and clever dribbles were cheered by the crowd. Some scouts were on the sidelines, sensing an opportunity to recruit talented young players.

Suburbs and satellite towns around big cities, known in French as “les banlieues,” are fertile ground for football talents in Europe. Academies in France — notably Lyon, Monaco, Nantes and Rennes — are ranked among the best in Europe along with Spain for developing young players such as Real Madrid great Karim Benzema and World Cup star Kylian Mbappe.

But these same areas have also carried and been scarred by a rough reputation.

At the end of May, some far-right politicians blamed young people from the suburbs for violence outside the Champions League final at Stade de France in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. They were widely accused of vandalism, disruption of public safety and fraud.

Sow stressed that despite many people being suspicious of young people from the suburbs, where poverty and minority populations are concentrated in France, the tournament in Creteil has gone well. Defeats have been accepted with grace, and fans who have run onto the field after wins have been joyous rather than violent.

The mayor of Creteil supports the events, and a newly elected parliament member for the district, Clemence Guette of the left-wing parliamentary coalition NUPES, came to the semifinals. Guetté called it a “unifying” event that promoted “beautiful values” that sport generates.

Diame, who made around 240 Premier League appearances, has never let that take him away from his roots.

“No matter if you are Black, white, or Asian, everyone is welcome,” he told the AP. “Children, parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts. Everyone is here to enjoy a pure moment of pleasure.”


Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish
Updated 04 July 2022

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish
  • Three years after his last Tour stage win, the 29-year-old Groenewegen was open-mouthed and emotional as he put his hands over his head

SONDERBORG, Denmark: Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen overtook Wout van Aert and Peter Sagan at the line to win the third stage of the Tour de France in a photo finish while Van Aert extended his overall lead on Sunday.

Groenewegen got behind record seven-time Tour sprint champion Sagan’s wheel when he was battling with Van Aert, and found a gap to squeeze through and nudge his wheel over the line to win for the BikeExchange–Jayco team.

“I took a lot of wind and my legs were tired but I still had enough to sprint to the line,” Groenewegen said. “Wout van Aert always jokes, saying that if you are not sure of having won, you still claim the victory and you celebrate. That’s what I did (and) I understood I won from the sport directors screaming in the car.”

Groenewegen’s fifth Tour stage win came a day after Fabio Jakobsen’s first. Two years ago, Groenewegen was blamed for a heavy crash at the Tour of Poland that sent Jakobsen flying through roadside crash barriers. Jakobsen was put in an induced coma and needed five hours of surgery on his skull and face.

Although Groenewegen was remorseful over the incident, he was banned from cycling for nine months by cycling’s governing body UCI.

“My family supported me greatly after what happened,” he said. “My new team has put a lot of faith in me and a great train to lead me out. Every victory at the Tour de France is special.”

Three years after his last Tour stage win, the 29-year-old Groenewegen was open-mouthed and emotional as he put his hands over his head. The win was even more special since he crashed nine kilometers out and had to catch the peloton up.

Sagan was cross with Van Aert, meanwhile, muttering angrily and wagging his finger at him after they crossed the line because he found himself boxed to the right and close to the barriers. But there was no contact and Sagan even appeared to lean on Van Aert.

Van Aert picked up a six-second bonus and is now seven seconds ahead of Yves Lampaert and 14 ahead of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar in the standings. Pogacar’s rival Primoz Roglic, the 2020 Tour runner-up, is seventh overall and stayed nine seconds behind Pogacar.

The stage started in Vejle on the Jutland Peninsula and ended in Sonderborg in southern Denmark after 182 kilometers (113 miles) of flat racing. Groenewegen’s winning time was 4 hours, 11 minutes, 33 seconds. Pogacar and Roglic were nestled in the main pack with finishing positions irrelevant since they all got the same time.

“It’s been quiet for me today, even though flat stages are always nervous and can be dangerous,” Pogacar said. “I wasn’t affected by the crash in the finale. The first three days have gone well.”

Van Aert wore the leader’s yellow jersey for the Jumbo–Visma team after taking it for the first time on Saturday. He also extended his lead in the green jersey contest for best sprinter.

Huge crowds packed the roadsides in sparkling sunshine as the Danish supporters wearing red and white turned out in force. Proudly wearing the best climber’s polka-dot jersey he claimed on Saturday, Danish rider Magnus Cort, who was in the early breakway group on Saturday, pulled away to take a solo lead for 130 kilometers before being caught with about 50 kilometers left.

“I was a little bit surprised to find myself alone in the lead, but it was nice anyway,” Cort said. “I got a big lead as soon as I broke away, but it was hard to keep the peloton at bay.”

Cort wasn’t upset about being caught, after a weekend he’ll never forget.

“I spent an amazing day out there, enjoying the crowds. I knew what to expect after what we experienced yesterday, but it turned out to be even better because I was in the polka dot jersey,” he said. “It was a perfect day. Life-changing? For sure. The Tour de France is such a big race that it goes well beyond the cycling scene. Everything that happens here transcends the general public.”

Cort picked up more points over the three minor climbs — including the Hejlsminde Strand, the lowest of these at 40 meters above sea level — to keep the jersey until Tuesday. He held up three fingers to celebrate with his home fans and then waved to them after the pack swallowed him up.

“These days have been a dream for me,” Cort said. “Huge, unbelievable. I never imagined them this way.”

Several riders fell on a cobblestone section with about 10 kilometers left but got back up to continue.

After a travel day, the riders will tackle five small climbs in the fourth stage on the route from the coastal city of Dunkerque to Calais.

The race ends on July 24 in Paris.


Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals

Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals
Updated 04 July 2022

Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals

Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals
  • Shaking off the disappointment of a first-round loss at the French Open, Jabeur’s goals are “very high” at the All England Club
  • Just over a year ago, she became the first Arab woman to win a singles title on the elite women’s tennis tour when she lifted the trophy in Birmingham — also a grass-court tournament

WIMBLEDON, England: She headed the ball. She flicked it up with her feet. Ons Jabeur is having fun, and she’s winning.

The Tunisian, who at No. 3 is the highest-remaining women’s seed, advanced to her second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal with a 7-6 (9), 6-4 victory over Elize Mertens on No. 1 Court on Sunday.

“It’s my kind of thing to express a little bit my stress during the match, doing funny things with the football or anything just helps me connect with the crowd,” Jabeur said of her ball skills, like when she chased down and headed away a lob from Mertens that went long. “Be myself on the court really is very, very important.”

The 27-year-old Jabeur saved five set points in the tiebreaker — the closest she’s come to dropping a set through four matches. She improved to 9-0 this season on grass, which includes winning the Berlin Open last month.

Just over a year ago, she became the first Arab woman to win a singles title on the elite women’s tennis tour when she lifted the trophy in Birmingham — also a grass-court tournament.

“I love playing on grass, I love the connection between the nature and me, so hopefully it will continue this way for me and maybe through the finals,” Jabeur said.

Shaking off the disappointment of a first-round loss at the French Open, Jabeur’s goals are “very high” at the All England Club.

“No matter who’s coming, I’m going to build the fight, I’m going to fight till the end because I really want the title,” said Jabeur, who has never reached a Grand Slam semifinal.

Up next is unseeded Czech player Marie Bouzkova, who advanced to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal by beating Caroline Garcia of France 7-5, 6-2.

Simona Halep is the last Grand Slam champion standing on the women’s side. The 16th-seeded Romanian won at Wimbledon in 2019 and at the French Open the year before that. She faces fourth-seeded Paula Badosa in the fourth round on Monday.

Jabeur and Badosa are all that’s left of the top 15 seeds.

Also Sunday, Tatjana Maria eliminated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the age of 34.

“I always believed that at one point I can show what I can do,” said the 103rd-ranked Maria, who ousted fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari in the third round. “I’m happy that today, I mean, I came back when I was down, so I’m proud of myself.”

Maria will face 22-year-old Jule Niemeier, who is making her All England Club debut, in an all-German showdown for a place in the semifinals. The 97th-ranked Niemeier advanced by beating Heather Watson 6-2, 6-4 on Center Court in just her second Grand Slam tournament.

Jabeur described her match, particularly the tiebreaker, as “10 out of 10 stressful” but that she’s coping better now.

“I am breathing better. I’m expressing more my feelings before the matches. That helps me, like, really play the game that I want to play,” she said.

Jabeur is not a big fan of the antics that were on display in the fourth-round match between Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday.

“Tennis is a very beautiful sport. It shouldn’t be that way,” said Jabeur, who after her victory in the Berlin final prepared a cooler with ice for opponent Belinda Bencic, who had stopped playing because of an injured ankle.

So it was no surprise that 90 minutes after her victory on Sunday, while Jabeur was on a balcony doing TV interviews, fans yelled greetings to her from below.

“Me, I’m just someone that enjoys life a lot,” Jabeur said. “For me, a tennis career is going to be very short. What’s more important for me is my character and how people talk about me.”


IOC boss Bach says Ukraine ‘flag will fly high’ at Olympics

IOC boss Bach says Ukraine ‘flag will fly high’ at Olympics
Updated 04 July 2022

IOC boss Bach says Ukraine ‘flag will fly high’ at Olympics

IOC boss Bach says Ukraine ‘flag will fly high’ at Olympics
  • Speaking during a visit to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Bach pledged to increase the amount of IOC funding for athletes from the war-torn nation
  • The IOC responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February by recommending that international sports federations ban Russian and Belarusian athletes

KYIV: Olympics chief Thomas Bach on Sunday said the organization would ensure that Ukrainian athletes could compete at the 2024 Games despite the Russian invasion.

Speaking during a visit to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Bach pledged to increase the amount of IOC funding for athletes from the war-torn nation.

That will ensure that at the Olympic Games in Paris 2024 and at the Olympic Winter Games in 2026 in Cortina-Milano, “the Ukrainian flag will fly high,” said Bach.

“The IOC will triple the fund we have been establishing at the very beginning of the Russian invasion in Ukraine from $2.5 million to $7.5 million,” he added.

Zelensky welcomed the additional support.

“The Russian invasion has become a cruel shock for the Ukrainian sports,” he said, speaking after his meeting with Bach.

“A lot of Ukrainian athletes joined the Ukrainian armed forces to defend our country, to defend it on the battlefield.

“Eighty nine athletes and coaches died as the result of the military combat. Thirteen are captured and are in the Russian captivity.”

The IOC responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February by recommending that international sports federations ban Russian and Belarusian athletes.

Bach said that the IOC would not be changing its position.

“We also reassured the president (Zelensky) we maintain the position we took at the very beginning of the war, which is very clear,” he said.

“Including the recommendations toward international federations not to invite Russian and Belarus athletes to international competitions.

“The time has not come to lift these recommendations.”

Zelensky welcomed the news.

“It cannot be allowed that a terrorist state uses sports to promote its political interests and propaganda.

“While Russia is trying to destroy the Ukrainian people and conquer other European countries, its representatives have no place in the world’s sports community.”

Among a raft of sporting sanctions, Russia has been suspended from international football tournaments, the Russian Formula One Grand Prix was canceled and Russian and Belarusian tennis players have been banned from Wimbledon.