Turmoil at home swirls around Iran team ahead of World Cup

Turmoil at home swirls around Iran team ahead of World Cup
A team-wide reaction followed Tuesday when the Iranian anthem played ahead of the game against Senegal. (Twitter)
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Updated 01 October 2022

Turmoil at home swirls around Iran team ahead of World Cup

Turmoil at home swirls around Iran team ahead of World Cup
  • The Iranian football federation tried to silence fans by locking them out of the stadium in Austria
  • Players made their silent protest at a World Cup warmup game this week

GENEVA: Political issues are swirling around the Iran men’s football team amid turmoil on the streets at home just weeks before the World Cup where it will play the United States, Wales and England.
At home in Iran, two weeks of demonstrations and a violent crackdown by state authorities have followed the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of the morality police. She had been detained for allegedly wearing a mandatory headscarf too loosely.
Players made their silent protest at a World Cup warmup game this week, where the Iranian soccer federation tried to silence fans by locking them out of the stadium in Austria.
The federation also tried this month to organize a warmup game in November with Russia, Iran’s military ally whose teams are pariahs in football since the invasion of Ukraine.
FIFA was urged Friday by long-time campaigners for the rights of women fans to attend games in Iran to expel the national team from the World Cup.
“The Islamic Republic’s authorities and its football federation must not be given the honor of participating in football’s finest tournament while it is killing its citizens on our streets,” the Open Stadiums group said.
Open Stadiums called on FIFA to uphold its statutory commitment to respect and strive to promote “all internationally recognized human rights.”
Soccer’s governing body did not immediately comment on the fans’ request.
FIFA already did expel Russia from this World Cup — imposing a ban before a European qualifying playoffs semifinal in March against Poland — though without invoking human rights reasons. Instead, FIFA cited “irreparable and chaotic” harm to the World Cup due to security risks and potential opponents likely refusing to play Russia.
Iran should certainly play at the World Cup in Qatar, its near neighbor across the Arabian Gulf water, though the likelihood increased this week of political disruption for FIFA to deal with at the tournament starting Nov. 20.
Players have made their stand after being criticized for not reacting to Amini’s death days later at their first warmup game in Austria.
On Sunday, striker Sardar Azmoun wrote to his 4.9 million followers on Instagram that team rules prohibited comment “but I am no longer able to tolerate silence.”
He added being kicked out of the team would be “a small price to pay for even a single strand of Iranian women’s hair.”
A team-wide reaction followed Tuesday when the Iranian anthem played ahead of the game against Senegal. Each player wore a wore a plain black jacket that covered up their national team badge.


The game went ahead without fans in the stadium near Vienna, as the federation tried to stop demonstrators outside using a platform for dissent that would be seen on a live broadcast at home.
Star striker Mehdi Taremi later wrote on Instagram of being “ashamed” to see videos from Iran of violence against women in the streets.
Protesters in Iran have also targeted wider repression with some calls to overthrow the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
Football was drawn closer into the Iranian turmoil in the same week FIFA president Gianni Infantino claimed progress for women’s fans there at a World Trade Organization event in Geneva.
“Women attend football games now in Iran which was not possible until a couple of (months) ago,” Infantino said Tuesday, when he also visited United Nations human rights officials hours before the Iran players’ protest in Austria.
Infantino’s claim was disputed by Open Stadiums which said “when the Islamic Republic pretended to open league matches for women, it was far from the equality FIFA’s own statutes require.”
“To begin with, very few women could buy tickets, then in a humiliating way got physically harassed by Iran’s morality police,” the activist group said.
The tension between FIFA and Iranian women fans is despite some success at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
FIFA intervened four years ago to ensure fans could display their campaign banners in stadiums.
More cooperation could be called upon in Qatar, when Iran has a global audience to face England in just the second game of the tournament on Nov. 21.
Coach Carlos Queiroz’s team also faces Wales in Group B on Nov. 25 and four days later against the US.


Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan tells players: ‘We want more, we’re very ambitious’

Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan tells players: ‘We want more, we’re very ambitious’
Updated 11 sec ago

Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan tells players: ‘We want more, we’re very ambitious’

Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan tells players: ‘We want more, we’re very ambitious’
  • He hosted the first team squad at his residence this week during their mid-season training camp in Riyadh
  • Head coach Eddie Howe said that Al-Rumayyan took the opportunity to discuss the team’s current form and plans for club’s future

RIYADH: Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the chairman of Newcastle United, delivered a rallying cry to the Champions League-chasing players and coaching staff this week during their mid-season trip to Saudi Arabia.

The 28-man Magpies squad were guests of honor at his Riyadh residence on Monday evening. Head coach Eddie Howe said that Al-Rumayyan, who is also governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, took the opportunity to discuss the team’s current form and plans for future developments at the club.

“It was a really, really special moment for the chairman to welcome us to his home,” said Howe, whose side sit third in the Premier League after 15 top-flight games. “It wasn’t underestimated by us; it was a really nice gesture. It’s not every day that you have that invitation, so we were humbled to accept it.

“He was really, really good with us, communicated his thoughts and visions on the future. I really enjoyed spending time with him and his family. He was very welcoming and open and I’m sure the players feel the same way. He was very good with them. He interacts and talks with them in a really good way.”

Howe, who in November 2021 was the first major appointment of the Saudi era at the club, has transformed United from a team that was battling relegation at the start of this year to one that is now fighting it out at the top with the Premier League’s traditional “big six.”

A lot of what he has built and achieved has come as a result of hard work and building a strong team spirit, and this was something that Al-Rumayyan reiterated to the squad, Howe said.

“I think he’s very much for the team,” the coach added. “He wants to acknowledge that and bring everyone together. He speaks really well and honestly, and I’m sure the players appreciated his words.

“It was, ‘Well done but we want more, we’re very ambitious.’ I think that’s what the players want to hear. He just (wants us) to continue to work as hard as (we) are and stick together as a team. He’s been really pleased watching the team, how it’s fought for everything.

“They were team messages but very effective messages. I think it was an acknowledgment from him to the staff as well. I think it was just nice for everyone to share that moment.”

When asked what the chairman’s home was like, Howe was diplomatically coy.

“Quite small, actually,” he said in jest. “It was an amazing place but he’s earned his success through hard work and it was a real privilege to be there.”

One thing on the minds of many monitoring developments at Newcastle is what lies ahead in the January transfer window. This was not a topic of conversation with Al-Rumayyan, Howe said.

“I didn’t think it was the right time, with his wife and children there,” he joked.

But he added that he has since met co-owners Jamie Reuben, Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi to discuss budgets.

The training camp in Saudi Arabia is Newcastle’s second trip to the Kingdom this year. They will take on Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal in a friendly at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium at 8pm on Thursday.


British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban

British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban
Updated 5 min 44 sec ago

British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban

British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban
  • The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban
  • The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, also barred them from competing at this year's edition of tennis' oldest Slam

LONDON: British tennis chiefs said Wednesday they were “disappointed” at being fined $1 million by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for banning Russian and Belarusian players from its events.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban.
The LTA stages five events — Queen’s Club in London, Eastbourne, Surbiton, Nottingham and Ilkley — in the calendar of the ATP, which runs the men’s professional tennis tour outside of the four Grand Slams.
Russian and Belarusian players were barred from all five tournaments.
The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, also barred them from competing at this year’s edition of tennis’ oldest Slam.
Both the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association stripped Wimbledon of its ranking points in protest at a ban labelled “crazy” by Novak Djokovic.
The Women’s Tennis Association had also previously issued a fine of $1 million to British tennis authorities, split between $750,000 to the LTA and $250,000 to the All England Club.
It is also understood the LTA has been threatened with expulsion from the ATP Tour if it repeats the ban.
The LTA, responding Wednesday to the latest sanction, accused the ATP of a “lack of empathy” over the situation in Ukraine, saying in a statement: “The LTA is deeply disappointed with this outcome.
“The ATP, in its finding, has shown no recognition of the exceptional circumstances created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the international sporting community and UK Government’s response to that invasion.
“The ATP appear to regard this matter as a straightforward breach of their rules — with a surprising lack of empathy shown for the situation in Ukraine, and a clear lack of understanding of the unique circumstances the LTA faced.”
The statement said the fines would have a financial impact on the LTA’s ability to “develop and host” tennis in Britain.
It added: “We will carefully consider our response and we await the outcome of our appeal against the WTA’s decision and sanction.”
Michelle Donelan, the British government’s Culture Secretary, also urged the ATP and WTA to reconsider their punishments.
“We are clear that sport cannot be used to legitimize this deadly invasion, and that athletes representing the Russian or Belarusian states should be banned from competing in other countries,” she said.
“Despite widespread condemnation, the international tennis tours are determined to be outcasts in this, with investment in the growth of our domestic game hampered as a result.
“This is the wrong move by the ATP and WTA. I urge them to think carefully about the message this sends, and to reconsider.”
Speaking after an executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, IOC president Thomas Bach also took aim at the British government for politicizing participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.
Despite ice hockey players from the two countries playing in the NHL, Bach said, “on the other hand we had Wimbledon, the British Government interfering and forcing the Wimbledon organizers to exclude Russian and Belarusian players.”
“Governments should not decide on political grounds who is participating in which sports events.
“The qualification for sports events must be on sporting merits and not on political interference.”
Bach accused the British government, and others, of going against the Olympic Charter — guarantor of the IOC’s political neutrality.
“To take a decision, a political decision, on a sports competition is clearly not in line with these resolutions and with these commitments and is not in line with the mission of international sports,” he said.


Saudi Sports for All Federation to host the Jeddah Half-Marathon

Saudi Sports for All Federation to host the Jeddah Half-Marathon
Updated 34 min 34 sec ago

Saudi Sports for All Federation to host the Jeddah Half-Marathon

Saudi Sports for All Federation to host the Jeddah Half-Marathon
  • Runners will take part in 4km, 10km and 21km races on Dec. 10 across the Formula One circuit in Jeddah
  • The end of the half-marathon will see 24 winners awarded SR1 million ($266,000) in cash prizes

The Saudi Sports for All Federation has completed its preparations to host the Jeddah Half-Marathon on Sunday, Dec. 10, with the support of the Ministry of Sports and the Quality-of-Life Program.

Through this important event, the SFA aims to promote an active lifestyle and foster a competitive spirit among participants.

The SFA has called on the public to take part in the event, which will include 4km, 10km and 21km races. Participants can visit the Marathon Village, which will be open on Dec. 9, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., to collect their race numbers and racing tools. The village will host a range of entertainment events and provide food and beverages.

The tracks will cross Jeddah’s Formula One circuit, while the end of the half-marathon will see 24 winners awarded cash prizes, estimated at SR1 million ($266,000) in total.

The federation’s preparations to host the race were made in alignment with the Kingdom’s ongoing Vision 2030, which encourages Saudi citizens and residents to practice regular physical activity and participate in sporting events.

The SFA also organized a successful full marathon in Riyadh, the Kingdom’s first, which included a 42km track and attracted more than 10,000 participants from around the world.


Leading coaches hold tennis try-outs for Saudi women

Leading coaches hold tennis try-outs for Saudi women
Updated 07 December 2022

Leading coaches hold tennis try-outs for Saudi women

Leading coaches hold tennis try-outs for Saudi women
  • Judy Murray, Barbara Schett-Eagle and Mats Wilander hold tennis try-outs for women on sidelines of Diriyah Tennis Cup
  • Judy Murray: ‘To be able to come here against the backdrop of the Diriyah Tennis Cup, which is a mens’ event, and have a whole womens’ program going on around it, is very, very important’

Female students from Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) Riyadh participated in tennis coaching sessions with leading international coaches and former players as part of the Diriyah Tennis Cup program.

The students were coached by Judy Murray, mother of leading players Jamie and Andy Murray, former World Number 1 Mats Wilander from Sweden and Austrian Barbara Schett-Eagle.

Some of the women students held a racquet in their hands for the first time and were introduced to the sport by the tennis legends.

“At the sessions we had a real mix of complete beginners who want to learn the game, some people who have been playing for years and wish to improve and also teachers and coaches,” said Judy Murray.

“I have worked in tennis for over 30 years and the last twelve years I have really focused on encouraging women and girls. Not just to play tennis but to get involved in delivering tennis. We don’t have enough female coaches in tennis worldwide, so actually to be able to come here against the backdrop of the Diriyah Tennis Cup, which is a mens’ event, and have a whole womens’ program going on in the community around it, is very, very important.”

“As a — hopefully — role model and female coach I like to go out and share all the content I have created over many years. I am so passionate about getting more women and girls involved, so this is a lovely opportunity for me to come to Riyadh to do that.”

Former leading player Mats Wilander said: “People are very much into sport here. To play tennis with the female students was wonderful. Judy Murray has a wonderful program. It’s important, to bring tennis to the women of Saudi Arabia, women in general and people in general. Everybody should have a chance to experience and try out the sport.”

Former Austrian player Barbara Schett-Eagle added: “I had an unbelievable day playing tennis with the female students, some playing for the first time. I love tennis. It’s my love and my passion. At the end, they were all able to hit a tennis ball. Some never held a racket before. It was great, there were lots of smiles.”

The President of the Saudi Tennis Federation Arij Almutabagani said that she sees a bright future for tennis in the kingdom.

“There is a strong possibility of finding some young talent. We are really starting at the grassroots, at the beginning, but we have to start somewhere. I think Judy Murray is a great inspiration and I think this program with her is a good start and I hope we can work with her in the future,” said Almutabagani.


Shane Lowry to compete in Dubai Desert Classic

Shane Lowry to compete in Dubai Desert Classic
Updated 07 December 2022

Shane Lowry to compete in Dubai Desert Classic

Shane Lowry to compete in Dubai Desert Classic
  • Lowry joins the top-ranked player in the world Rory McIlroy and DP World Tour stars Tommy Fleetwood, Ryan Fox and Tyrrell Hatton in January’s Rolex Series event
  • Irishman Lowry’s career highlight so far came when he lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush, winning by an impressive six strokes

Shane Lowry, the 2019 Open Champion, has announced that he will compete in the Dubai Desert Classic.

Lowry joins the top-ranked player in the world Rory McIlroy and DP World Tour stars Tommy Fleetwood, Ryan Fox and Tyrrell Hatton in January’s Rolex Series event.

Irishman Lowry’s career highlight so far came when he lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush, winning by an impressive six strokes. A four-time winner on the DP World Tour, and twice on the PGA TOUR, Lowry secured his second Rolex Series title at the BMW PGA Championship in September, in a season that also included a top three finish at The Masters.

On the prospect of teeing off at Emirates Golf Club from 26th to 29th January — as he aims to add more silverware in the UAE following his 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title — Lowry said: “I always enjoy going to Dubai and I am delighted to be returning to Emirates Golf Club for the Dubai Desert Classic in January.

“I’ve had success in the UAE in the past, and it would be great to add my name to the impressive list of players who have lifted this trophy.”

Fleetwood ended the 2022 season in style, securing his sixth DP World Tour title when he successfully defended his Nedbank Golf Challenge title in November. The former European Number One has also tasted success in the UAE with two wins in Abu Dhabi, and was runner-up to Ryder Cup team-mate and fellow fan favorite Lowry at the 2019 Open. It is his joint best Major outing to date, having also finished second at the US Open the previous year.

New Zealand’s Fox has had a stunning 2022, finishing second behind McIlroy in the season-long DP World Tour Rankings after winning the Ras Al Khaimah Classic in February and the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October. With a further eight top tens throughout the season, including a narrow playoff loss at the Dutch Open, the Kiwi, will be looking to take that impressive form into 2023 and his appearance in Dubai.

Englishman Hatton is another tournament addition with considerable pedigree, who has experienced recent success in the region following his 2021 triumph in Abu Dhabi. The two-time Ryder Cup star has six DP World Tour victories to his name, including four Rolex Series titles. After a runner-up finish at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, he will be aiming to carry on that form when he returns to Dubai in January.

The four will join two-time winner of the Dubai Desert Classic, four-time Major winner and current World Number 1 McIlroy, who has already confirmed his participation.

Simon Corkill, Executive Tournament Director of Dubai Desert Classic, said: “The latest player announcement shows the strength of the Dubai Desert Classic and its ability to attract the very best players in the world. Over the years we have been proud to assemble stellar line-ups for fans to enjoy some scintillating golfing action — and the 2023 edition will be no exception.”

“To add the 2019 Open Champion Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton to the field guarantees that we have a world class field. Ryan Fox will come to us on the back of a brilliant 2022, his best career year to date and will be another excellent addition to our line-up,” added Corkill.