How COVID-19 brought cricketers’ mental health issues to the fore

How COVID-19 brought cricketers’ mental health issues to the fore
One view was that the new isolation had been the straw which broke the camel’s back in terms of players having the mental ability to cope with the fatigue from yet another bio-bubble. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2022

How COVID-19 brought cricketers’ mental health issues to the fore

How COVID-19 brought cricketers’ mental health issues to the fore
  • The sport has long had a reticence to confront these concerns, and despite being better remunerated, players face greater pressure than ever before

On Friday, England will host India at Edgbaston, Birmingham, in a Test match which was initially scheduled to start last year, Sept. 10, at Old Trafford, Manchester, but had been delayed over COVID-19 concerns.

That game did not take place because of an overnight decision by the Indian party, fearful about COVID-19 spreading through its camp, to declare this had a significant impact on their ability to field a team. This was despite none of the players testing positive the day before the game. It was members of support staff who had done so, resulting in players isolating in their hotel rooms. Minutes before the gates were due to open at 9 a.m., news of the cancellation seeped out, to the dismay, disbelief and disappointment of all those involved, except the Indians, it seemed.

They left England over the following two days to fly to the UAE, where the Indian Premier League was due to resume on Sept. 19, having been curtailed halfway through in early-May because of COVID-19 concerns in India. The Indian team’s decision in Manchester split the cricketing world. One view was that, coming on top of months of isolation during the pandemic, the new isolation had been the straw which broke the camel’s back in terms of players having the mental ability to cope with the fatigue from yet another bio-bubble.

An alternative view, vigorously denied, was that the fear of catching the virus, so close to the resumption of the IPL, would mean that the players would not have been able to take their places in their team bubbles until after quarantine requirements had been satisfied in the UAE. The Board of Control for Cricket in India specified six days of quarantine. Thus, leaving England between Sept. 11 and 12 gave them just enough time to play in the IPL on Sept. 19, whereas leaving on Sept. 14 and 15 would not have allowed this. There were also issues over whether the cancellation, over COVID-19 concerns, would be covered by insurance; or if the game had to be declared forfeited.

Feelings ran high in both camps. It was not until Oct. 22, 2021, that a resolution was announced under which the match would be played between July 1 and 5, 2022 but at a different venue, Birmingham, rather than the original one in Manchester. The official reason was that, because of other events, there would be insufficient time to prepare a pitch at Manchester. The move also took out of the equation the possibility of any residual ill-will existing there. Nevertheless, it is scant consolation for ticketholders of the original match, who are not able to watch the rearranged one, nor local traders who lost business. Manchester will host South Africa in August.

There has been almost no public commentary on the substance of the negotiations between the Indian and English cricket boards, the implications of the agreement for insurance claims, and also the conditions under which India agreed to play. The match will complete the four-match series, with India holding a 2-1 advantage. Since September 2021, the two teams have undergone shifting fortunes. Both have different captains and coaches. After desperately poor performances in Australia and the West Indies, England have been re-energized by new management, having beaten New Zealand 3-0 in a Test series, which ended last Monday.

India was beaten 2-1 by South Africa in a three match Test series in December 2021/January 2022, after which its highly successful captain, Virat Kohli, resigned, following tensions with the BCCI. Under his successor, Rohit Sharma, India beat Sri Lanka in a two match Test series in February 2022. It is ironic that he has tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the upcoming Test and, with the appointed vice-captain ruled out by injury, the Indians have appointed a pace bowler, Jasprit Bumrah, as captain, in an unusual move.

What is clear is that COVID-19 continues to impact not only this series but cricket, in general. The mental health and well-being issues cited by the Indian camp last September have also applied to other cricketers during the pandemic. The new England captain, Ben Stokes, took a break from the game in July 2021 to deal with his own issues, thus missing the series against India. It is another quirk of fate that he joins the series for the final match.

By its very nature, cricket has long had an uneasy relationship with mental health and a reticence to confront it. Cricketers spend much time alone, both on and off the pitch, with ample opportunities for reflection and rumination. Worries about form, technique and injury can generate self-doubt, which can be preyed upon by opponents. This scope for introspection has received impetus from experiences generated by the pandemic. These have created abnormal relations with families, friends, teammates, spectators, opponents and media. They have been superimposed upon the normal issues which confront cricketers performing as individuals within a team environment.

Cricket has also attracted attention as a sport which, since the early 20th Century, has allegedly suffered a higher-than-average proportion of suicides by professional players. Studies of these cases have sought to uncover the role that cricket may have played. The evidence is inconclusive, because of small sample sizes, a lack of rigorous data collection and a lack of clarity about causes of death. The only linkages seem to be that the individuals had either depressive histories and/or health/financial problems in their post-playing days that brought them to their ultimate decision.

Cricketers are now better remunerated but the pressures to perform seem greater. Some former professional cricketers have talked openly about this subject, yet reluctance to reach out for help still appears to exist, despite increasing avenues of support becoming available. Although the extent that mental health issues contributed to the decision at Manchester last September remains opaque, a new awareness of their impact has been created. Acknowledgement should not be regarded as weakness. Cricket has a fresh opportunity to systemically address them across its realm.


Ronaldo cautioned by police after allegedly slapping phone from fan’s hand

Ronaldo cautioned by police after allegedly slapping phone from fan’s hand
Updated 17 August 2022

Ronaldo cautioned by police after allegedly slapping phone from fan’s hand

Ronaldo cautioned by police after allegedly slapping phone from fan’s hand
  • Merseyside Police launched an investigation after a clip was circulated online of Ronaldo appearing to knock the supporter's mobile phone on to the ground
  • After the incident, Ronaldo issued a social media apology for his "outburst"

LONDON: Cristiano Ronaldo has been cautioned by British police after footage emerged of the Manchester United forward appearing to smash a phone out of an Everton fan’s hand at a match last season.
The 37-year-old was interviewed by officers in relation to an allegation of assault and criminal damage following the incident at Goodison Park on April 9.
Merseyside Police launched an investigation after a clip was circulated online of Ronaldo appearing to knock the supporter’s mobile phone on to the ground as he limped toward the tunnel following United’s 1-0 loss.
The force said in a statement on Wednesday: “We can confirm that a 37-year-old man voluntarily attended and was interviewed under caution in relation to an allegation of assault and criminal damage.
“The allegation relates to an incident following the Everton v Manchester United football match at Goodison Park on Saturday April 9.
“The matter has been dealt with by way of conditional caution. The matter has now concluded.”
After the incident, Ronaldo issued a social media apology for his “outburst” and invited the supporter to watch a game at Old Trafford “as a sign of fair-play and sportsmanship.”
Taking to his Instagram account after the match, the Portuguese forward said: “It’s never easy to deal with emotions in difficult moments such as the one we are facing.
“Nevertheless, we always have to be respectful, patient and set the example for all the youngsters who love the beautiful game.
“I would like to apologize for my outburst and, if possible, I would like to invite this supporter to watch a game at Old Trafford as a sign of fair-play and sportsmanship.”
It comes as Ronaldo hit out at the “lies” surrounding reports about his future at struggling United.
The Portugal forward missed the club’s pre-season tour to Thailand and Australia for personal reasons as speculation swirled over whether he would be leaving Old Trafford.
It has been reported Ronaldo wants to play Champions League football, but United maintain he is not for sale and remains an integral part of the plans of new boss Erik ten Hag.
The former Real Madrid star played the full 90 minutes of United’s 4-0 defeat at Brentford on Saturday, which left them bottom of the Premier League.
In a reply to a fan account on Instagram that referred to a report linking the United frontman to Atletico Madrid, Ronaldo said fans would “know the truth” in a couple of weeks, adding: “The media is telling lies.”


Eddie Hearn: Joshua-Usyk will not go past six rounds

Eddie Hearn: Joshua-Usyk will not go past six rounds
Updated 17 August 2022

Eddie Hearn: Joshua-Usyk will not go past six rounds

Eddie Hearn: Joshua-Usyk will not go past six rounds
  • The British and Ukrainian boxers headline Rage on the Red Sea in Riyadh when they face off for the World Heavyweight Championship Saturday night
  • Eddie Hearn: I think Usyk’s coming in heavy; I think he’s going to try and be aggressive; he’s going to try and stand and fight with Joshua, and I don’t think the fight will go past six rounds

JEDDAH: Eddie Hearn is predicting a knockout when Anthony Joshua attempts to become a three-time world champion by defeating Oleksandr Usyk at Rage on the Red Sea in Jeddah on Saturday.

The Matchroom Sports chairman believes both boxers will go into their rematch more aggressive than their first, which saw Usyk rip the WBA Super, IBF, WBO and IBO belts from Joshua’s grip. Usyk’s victory came courtesy of a unanimous points decision, but Hearn does not think their second meeting will go to the judges.

“I think they both will be aggressive,” said Hearn ahead of fight night at Rage on the Red Sea at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Sports City Arena.

“I think Usyk’s coming in heavy. I think he’s going to try and be aggressive. He’s going to try and stand and fight with Joshua, and I don’t think the fight will go past six rounds. I think you’re going to see a knockout in this fight, more aggression from both guys and a tremendous battle.”

Having suffered defeat at the hands of Usyk last time around, the importance of victory is not lost on Joshua’s camp.

“We’ve got to win,” Hearn added. “It’s the ultimate of the sport, the World Heavyweight Championship, and we’ve got no interest in just taking part — it’s only about victory for Joshua. He did it before out there, and this is a much tougher challenge, but he’s ready. And I believe he can become a three-time heavyweight world champion in Saudi next week.”

Although thousands of miles from home, Joshua finds himself in a familiar position.

He previously regained his title from Andy Ruiz Jr. in Saudi Arabia in December 2019, and he now returns to the Kingdom in search of a third heavyweight championship.

The fight with Ruiz Jr. three years ago made Joshua a hero figure in Saudi Arabia, and for the last month, he has set up his training camp in Jeddah.

Joshua revealed that the kindness he has been shown by Saudis “fills me with energy,” and Hearn believes his fighter’s previous experience at the Clash of the Dunes provides both comfort and confidence.

“Joshua has been out there for four weeks, and it shows you how comfortable he is out there because normally a fighter would go for a week really,” Hearn explained. “And they don’t like to be away from the home comforts, but he feels very comfortable in Saudi, and he’s got very fond memories from the Ruiz fight. He’s in a great place and ready for fight week.”

Hearn and his company played active roles alongside the Saudi government, Ministry of Sport and Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation to take both the Clash of the Dunes and Rage on the Red Sea to the Kingdom.

The first event saw participation numbers rocket in the country, and boxing’s popularity in Saudi Arabia has continued to rise since.

“I think a lot of people think that those guys are just happy to go and take the money, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Hearn.

“They want to inspire that next generation there, and when they get that kind of response and they see those smiles, they love it. And they want that to continue.

“They’re also two great guys who give their time to people, and they’re not people who are just going to turn their nose up at others. They want to showcase boxing, they’re lovers of the sport, and if they think that boxing could flourish there, they’ll do everything they can to inspire those fans and the next generation of fighters.

“Both of them are great athletes, great individuals. They have great values, great respect and tremendous amounts of time for the fans. They’re spot on."

It is not just the main event duo that Hearn believes can further aid boxing’s development in Saudi Arabia.

Chief among them for the local audience are the professional debut of Saudi-Egyptian Ziyad Al-Maayouf and the presence of Ramla Ali and Crystal Nova Garcia as the first female boxers to ever feature in an official international fight in Saudi Arabia.

“For Ali, the first female fighter, to be showcased there is so important for boxing. It’s important for Saudi as well. So too is the presence of Al-Maayouf; what an opportunity for him. And he’s going to get a fantastic reception as well,” the Matchroom chief said.

“But everybody on this card is very lucky. I mean, this is historic. When we shot that promo, it felt like Rumble in the Jungle or the Thriller in Manila. It’s one of those iconic moments and everybody on the card, Joshua included, should be very thankful for this moment.

“Next week’s going to be really special, from the build-ups to the receptions, to the press conferences, to the weigh-ins, to the show itself. And the whole world will be watching Saudi Arabia next weekend.”


Saudi golf trio get ready for Korean test on Asian Tour calendar

Saudi golf trio get ready for Korean test on Asian Tour calendar
Updated 17 August 2022

Saudi golf trio get ready for Korean test on Asian Tour calendar

Saudi golf trio get ready for Korean test on Asian Tour calendar
  • Othman Almulla, first professional Saudi golfer, joined by amateurs Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif
  • Saud Al-Sharif: The three of us have pretty much grown up in the national team together so having the whole team here has been great

Three of Saudi Arabia’s brightest golfing talents will be going for glory when they tee up in this week’s International Series Korea at the picturesque Lotte Skyhill Country Club on the scenic Korean island of Jeju.

Othman Almulla, the first professional Saudi golfer, is in the field along with amateurs Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif, two of the country’s brightest hopes in the game, for the second of two back-to-back $1.5 million marquee tournaments on the Asian Tour calendar, after jetting out to Jeju from Singapore via Seoul.

All three will be hoping to put in strong performances from Aug. 18-21 to show the strides that Saudi golf has made in recent times.

Almulla said: “It’s been quite an interesting year. I have made a lot of progress in the Asian Tour events I have been able to play in. I have been hitting the ball very well, but I have not been able to capitalize on the chances I have been giving myself.

“The same happened last week. I was in with a great chance of making the cut going into the back nine of the second round, but maybe I pushed it a little too hard and made some silly bogeys, but it has been a great experience again.”

Almulla had a great chance to benchmark his game against the best last week in Singapore, as he went round the Tampines Course in the same group as eventual tournament champion Nitithorn Thippong of Thailand in rounds one and two.

“I have been lucky to be paired with some very good players on practice rounds. It’s great to be able to pick their brains and see what they are doing, and last week it was great to play alongside the eventual champion for the first two rounds.

“It is nice to know that I’m closer than I think. I’m glad that we are making real progress on all the work we have put in as preparation. I just need to find a bit more consistency, hit those bad shots a little better and improve the putting too, taking those 10-footers for birdie.”

Almulla has flown the flag for Saudi six times already on the Asian Tour this season, and his growing experience has proved invaluable as he helps his two junior compatriots prepare for two of the more high-profile tournaments on the calendar.

“I still think of them as national team teammates — if one of us succeeds we all succeed. They are super talented, and it is great that they can rub shoulders with some high-quality professional players. They are putting in some hard work and that will stand them in good stead in the future,” he said.

“It is awesome to have the backing of the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf in Saudi — we are a young golfing nation but it is nice to have that springboard to throw yourself in and learn to swim.”

Salhab, only one over par after an impressive two rounds at the Tanah Merah Country Club last week, said how important it is to have a more experienced player to look up to.

“Othman is a great friend and we seek him for many aspects of the game. We ask him for a lot of advice and he has been great,” he said.

On his own form going into the first round on Thursday, Salhab added: “My game is heading in the right direction. I just have to be patient and focus on the right things. This week is a tough track and a great test to see where we stand.”

Meanwhile, Al-Sharif added: “The three of us have pretty much grown up in the national team together so having the whole team here has been great. Hopefully we can follow in Othman’s footsteps and become professionals. He is a great role model to have — he is helpful and has invested a lot of time in us.

“It’s going to be fun. It’s not what we are used to but you have to get used to it and it is going to be interesting — a great experience,” he added.

“It is a beautiful course, super soft and lush. It is very different to the courses we are used to, so we are all excited about this learning experience.”


Qatar-UK Typhoon jet squadron to safeguard FIFA World Cup

Qatar-UK Typhoon jet squadron to safeguard FIFA World Cup
Updated 17 August 2022

Qatar-UK Typhoon jet squadron to safeguard FIFA World Cup

Qatar-UK Typhoon jet squadron to safeguard FIFA World Cup
  • Qatari envoy: ‘We prepare for the worst and hope for the best’
  • British defense secretary hails deal as ‘exciting milestone’

LONDON: Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets from the UK will protect Qatar’s airspace from threats during the country’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup later this year, The Times reported on Wednesday.

It comes as part of a major purchase of the jets — sold by Britain’s BAE Systems — by Qatar, which will take delivery of 24 of them by next year.

Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, Qatar’s ambassador to the UK, said during a ceremony in Lancashire to mark the first jet transfer that pilots from both countries will be ready to scramble on short notice during the tournament.

Typhoons have a top speed of almost 1,400 miles per hour. They were used during London’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2012 to provide air cover. The jets sold to Qatar will arrive “fully operational” and ready to fly.

Al-Attiyah said major public events are “soft spot” targets for terror attacks, and adequate protection is needed.

“The situation globally remains stable but nonetheless could be volatile. Anything could basically happen. So we prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he added.

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace hailed the Typhoon deal as an “exciting milestone.”

As part of Qatar’s preparations for the tournament, the country will also deploy navy and army forces to react to threats.

Al-Attiyah described the deployments as “one of many proactive measures we are taking to ensure we deliver a safe and secure tournament. One has to be vigilant.”


Laporta’s economic gambles far from guaranteed to pay off for Barcelona

Laporta’s economic gambles far from guaranteed to pay off for Barcelona
Updated 17 August 2022

Laporta’s economic gambles far from guaranteed to pay off for Barcelona

Laporta’s economic gambles far from guaranteed to pay off for Barcelona
  • After a summer of pulled financial levers and big signings, a drab 0-0 draw against Vallecano showed there will be no overnight fix for the team’s on-pitch troubles

Slowly, the picture at Barcelona is getting clearer — and for coach Xavi Hernandez, better. At least we know which players are eligible to pull on the shirt officially.

It has been a long and confusing road, which finally reached an end, of sorts, with the disappointing 0-0 draw against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday night.

On Oct. 6, 2021, FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta gave a press conference with then-CEO ​​Ferran Reverter, in which he said the club was in “accounting bankruptcy” and owed $1.5 billion because of the previous board’s mismanagement.

Laporta had only returned to the presidency a few months earlier, in March 2021, and since then it has been one setback after another for the Catalan club.

First was the earth-shattering news last summer that Lionel Messi was leaving Camp Nou. Worse followed as the club, with no money, could not replace the glaring hole left by the Argentine with any big-name signings.

The president who had brought joy back to the club in 2003, who oversaw the iconic Pep Guardiola era, was now a man who only reported bad news.

That is until this summer, when Laporta worked his magic again and pulled a rabbit out of his hat — or at least pulled those financial “levers” we have heard so much about recently.

Only months after Laporta made the club’s technical bankruptcy official, Barcelona somehow became, to global astonishment, the highest-spending club this summer: Raphinha came from Leeds for $59 million, Jules Koundé from Sevilla for $55 million, and Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich for $46 million.

Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva could be the next to arrive if rumors are to be believed.

So how did the bankrupt club become one of the world’s biggest spenders? In a word, levers. Or, in effect, selling future income.

The first two levers allowed the club to cash in $535 million by selling 25 percent of its TV rights for the next 25 years to the US investment fund Sixth Street.

Barcelona currently earn $167 million a year from TV broadcasting rights. At these prices, Sixth Street would receive $1.05 billion over the next 25 years, double what was invested in the lever.

The club also sold 49 percent of Barça Studios, the club’s audio-visual production company, in exchange for $203 million.

In a few short weeks, fans had to become familiar with a process — all above board, everyone was assured — few had heard of before.

But legal concerns aside, is it reasonable, even ethical, for a bankrupt club to become the summer’s highest spending club? It does not sound like financial common sense.

To understand the necessity for these levers, it is first necessary to understand how the club works.

Barcelona, like Real Madrid, is fully owned by its members, and the statutes prohibit transforming the club into a “sports company” — like Chelsea. In short, it is not possible for another company to buy capital from the club.

In addition to these episodes of creative accounting, the fact remains that the club gave up part of its future TV income in an effort to create a new “virtuous circle” of victories and income that is far from guaranteed.

The idea that Barcelona’s salvation lies in mortgaging income for the next 25 years is a gap in the Laportian economic reasoning that is difficult to fill.

The president’s plan is to make the club sexy again, giving it a reboot of sorts that will ensure the new star signings will further attract resources and new fans, and create bonds and new incomes that exceed those now mortgaged.

All experts, critics and even supporters of Laporta agree this is a high-risk operation. If the team does not perform on the pitch, the house of cards could fall apart.

The 0-0 against Rayo Vallecano will hardly have placated the critics. With over $150 million spent on five signings this summer, expectations were sky-high at Camp Nou in the first game of the new La Liga season.

In front of a full house at Barça’s dilapidated stadium, Hernandez started three of their new signings, but Andreas Christensen, Raphinha and Lewandowski could not help the team achieve victory in drab performance.

Laporta has taken a massive risk, and it could well be his last card. His critics await. Should it fail, Barcelona might just have to face the possibility of becoming a sociedad anónima deportiva (sports company) owned by outside forces, something unimaginable until recently. And Laporta will go down in history as the villain who allowed it to happen under his reign.