Infantino unopposed to get 4 more years as FIFA president

Infantino unopposed to get 4 more years as FIFA president
FIFA President Gianni Infantino with Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Bake and fans at the Passenger Overflow Area of Hamad International Airport in Doha on Thursday. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 November 2022

Infantino unopposed to get 4 more years as FIFA president

Infantino unopposed to get 4 more years as FIFA president
  • The 52-year-old Swiss lawyer won a five-candidate race in 2016 to replace Sepp Blatter and was re-elected unopposed in 2019

DOHA: FIFA President Gianni Infantino is getting four more years in charge of soccer’s governing body after no candidate stepped up to challenge him.

FIFA said Thursday the 52-year-old Swiss lawyer was the only person to enter the race by the time the deadline passed overnight — exactly four months before election day on March 16 in Kigali, Rwanda.

Infantino won a five-candidate race in 2016 to replace Sepp Blatter and was re-elected unopposed in 2019. He’s now set to stay in the job beyond the 2026 World Cup in the US, Canada and Mexico.

Infantino’s upcoming re-election to the $3 million-per-year job may not be his final term in office. FIFA rules allow him to run again to stay in power for another World Cup cycle until 2031.

A quirk of FIFA’s statutes means the first three years of Infantino’s presidency — when he completed an unfinished term started by Blatter — does not count against the 12-year limit agreed to in reforms passed during a prolonged corruption crisis before his first election.

Outside of soccer, one political threat to Infantino’s leadership is an investigation by two special prosecutors in Switzerland into his three undocumented meetings with then-attorney general Michael Lauber in 2016 and 2017 during American and Swiss federal investigations of soccer officials.

It is currently unclear how that case, which is being overseen by the Swiss parliament, is proceeding or how much jurisdiction it has over Infantino as a private citizen who could be accused of having sought an advantage from a public official. He has denied all wrongdoing.

Infantino’s current term in office, which started in June 2019, saw FIFA dip into its $2 billion-plus reserves and oversee emergency legal measures to help stabilize soccer through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The global health crisis almost entirely shut down World Cup qualifying games in 2020. The final tournament in Qatar starts on Sunday.

Infantino did not get approval for the biggest idea in the current presidential term — doubling the number of men’s World Cups to every two years in a planned overhaul of the calendar for national teams. That plan was blocked last year by the continental soccer bodies of Europe and South America, UEFA and CONMEBOL, who teamed up to threaten a boycott of a biennial World Cup.

Tensions persist between FIFA and the two traditionally powerful continents, though they declined to propose or publicly support a challenger. Candidates need pledges from five federations and to have been active in a formal soccer role for at least two of the past five years.

Infantino has shored up his voting base in the 54-member Confederation of African Football, which has been led since March 2021 by his close ally, South African mining magnate Patrice Motsepe.

The 2026 World Cup in North America, the first with 48 teams instead of 32, will hugely raise the tournament records for attendance and revenue for FIFA, which is on track to earn nearly $7 billion in its four-year commercial cycle tied to the World Cup in Qatar.

Infantino has consistently staked his presidency on raising FIFA’s income to steer more money toward federations worldwide. He wants other countries to close the gap on Europe and South America, which have provided every team to play in all 21 World Cup finals.

Europe and South America will field competing bids to host the 2030 World Cup, which is set for a vote by FIFA members in 2024.

Ukraine was added in October to the co-hosting bid by Spain and Portugal, while 1930 host Uruguay is part of a centenary celebration bid with Argentina, Chile and Paraguay.

Infantino still needs to pass an integrity and eligibility check carried out by a FIFA-appointed review panel chaired by a judge from India, Mukul Mudgal. That should be a formality in the weeks ahead.


Brazilian pair win Australian Open mixed doubles title

Brazilian pair win Australian Open mixed doubles title
Updated 10 sec ago

Brazilian pair win Australian Open mixed doubles title

Brazilian pair win Australian Open mixed doubles title
  • Stefani and Matos are undefeated as a team, having won all seven matches together at the United Cup and at Melbourne Park

MELBOURNE: The Brazilian pair of Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos beat India’s Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna 7-6 (2), 6-2 on Friday to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title in Mirza’s last match at a Grand Slam tournament before she retires.

Mirza, who has won six Grand Slam doubles championships — three in mixed, including the 2009 Australian Open — will retire next month after a tournament in Dubai.

The Brazilian pair took a 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker and Mirza and Bopanna fought back to 3-2, but that was to be the last points the Indian duo took. They missed two overheads in a row, including Mirza’s shot into the net on set point.

Stefani and Matos broke Mirza’s serve in the fourth game of the second set to go up 3-1, with the break point coming after a lengthy exchange between the teams.

Stefani and Matos are undefeated as a team, having won all seven matches together at the United Cup and at Melbourne Park.
 


Second edition of Rally Jameel set to start in AlUla

Second edition of Rally Jameel set to start in AlUla
Updated 35 min 59 sec ago

Second edition of Rally Jameel set to start in AlUla

Second edition of Rally Jameel set to start in AlUla
  • More than 50 all-female teams will rally for five days using skill, determination and grit

JEDDAH: On Tuesday, March 7, the second edition of Rally Jameel will kick off with the tech inspection and registration at AlUla. 

Fifty teams will take part in the off-road rally in Saudi Arabia — the first all-women off-road navigation rally.

With a 1,600 km route that starts in AlUla and ends in Qassim via Hail, the rally is focused on testing navigation and skills on a route that varies between 300 to 500 km per day over the course of five days. The route will feature checkpoints and navigation through heritage sites, with exciting details to unfold.

The endurance competition is based on precision driving and navigating — not the fastest speed — using maps, compasses, roadbooks, and strategy.

This year, teams hail from 11 countries. Each team consists of a driver, navigator, and their vehicle, with no support crews allowed.

The rally is being held under the patronage of Princess Reema bint Bandar, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the US, and under the umbrella of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation with recognition from the FIA Women in Motorsport Committee.

A press conference held on Wednesday at Hussain Jameel Hall was attended by Munir Khoja, managing director of marketing communication at Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, Abdullah Bakhashab, organizer of Rally Jameel, and other event participants.

Khoja told Arab News that this year’s edition is going to be different in terms of distance and days.

“Our valued proposition at Abdul Latif Jameel is ‘Take on Tomorrow,’ which means tomorrow will not happen if you don’t begin,” Khoja said. “We prepared a platform for all women to begin and that’s what Rally Jameel achieved in its first edition, when we had new female drivers who had never before engaged in any races, and as a result we have witnessed more than four participants (turn) professional … and took part in various local and regional rallies. So, this is what Rally Jameel is all about.”

He said Rally Jameel aims to encourage more women to get involved in motorsport and rallying, and recognizes that a modern nation must encourage and empower all members of society in all forms, including sport.

Bakhashab told Arab News: “The second edition of Rally Jameel coincides with International Women’s Day, which affirms our commitment to empowering women and honing the potential of the next generation of leaders and athletes. 

“This year’s track will be extended to 1,600 km, crossing AlUla, Hail and Qassim. The first day of the event on March 7 will cover team registrations, followed by the AlUla stage on March 8, with participants moving on to the AlUla-Hail stage on March 9, followed by Hail-Hail on March 10, and finally to Hail-Qassim on March 11.”

In her message via video from Washington, Princess Reema praised organizers for offering the participants an opportunity to demonstrate their determination and skill.

During the press conference, Saudi driver Maha Al-Hamly, who finished third in last year’s Rally Jameel, shared her success story and described it as a turning point of her life.

The first edition of Rally Jameel was designed to follow road and off-road routes that started from Hail to Qassim and on to Riyadh for over three days and 1,000 km. With over 34 teams from 15 countries, several well-known rally racers and motorsports champions were involved, alongside emerging entrants who had their first motorsports experience.

Since 1997, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors has been committed to creating opportunities and bolstering Saudi Arabia’s motorsports scene. Offering a world-class sporting event, Rally Jameel is the perfect opportunity for adventurous women with a passion for motorsports and off-roading.


Ryder extends Farmers lead to 3, Rahm gets hot on windy day

Ryder extends Farmers lead to 3, Rahm gets hot on windy day
Updated 37 min 17 sec ago

Ryder extends Farmers lead to 3, Rahm gets hot on windy day

Ryder extends Farmers lead to 3, Rahm gets hot on windy day
  • Ryder survived both the Santa Ana wind and the tougher South Course with just one bogey to reach 12-under 132

SAN DIEGO: Sam Ryder extended his lead to three shots in the Farmers Insurance Open with a 4-under 68 in challenging wind in the second round Thursday on Torrey Pines’ South Course while Jon Rahm had an eagle and three straight birdies late in his 5-under 67 on the easier North Course to get under the cut line.

Ryder survived both the Santa Ana wind and the tougher South Course with just one bogey to reach 12-under 132 and take a three-stroke lead over Brendan Steele, who shot a 70 on the South Course. Tano Goya was two more shots back after a 67 on the North Course.

The Santa Ana wind blowing out of the desert and down the mountains raked the course most of the day, with gusts up to 30 mph. It sent leaves, branches and even a tumbleweed onto greens, and cardboard trash cans tumbling down hillsides.

“Yesterday was very easy, today was very hard,” said Rahm, who took his first tour win here in 2017 and then won the 2021 US Open on the blufftop municipal course overlooking the Pacific Ocean. “It’s never easy out here on either one of the courses, especially the South, and when you get poa annua bumpy greens with this wind, it can be a bit of a nightmare, so glad I made a few.”

Rahm, ranked No. 3 in the world and looking to win for the third time three starts this year, rebounded from an opening 73 on the South Course by getting hot on his back nine. He eagled the par-5 fifth and then had three straight birdies. He had another eagle chance on the par-4 seventh but his long putt caught the left edge and skidded about a foot away.

After his frustrating opening round, “anything in the 60s would have been amazing,” Rahm said. “What I shot today, man, I’m going to be skipping out of the golf course today because it’s a great round of golf.”

Rahm, who won The American Express last weekend, started on the back nine and opened with consecutive birdies but bogeyed his third and ninth holes. He was even going into the par-5 fifth, when he started his run with an eagle.

“Holes five through nine, with or without wind is where you can take advantage of the course,” the Spanish star said. “Luckily, I’ve been hitting it really good. There’s no difference between those holes or any other five, four holes you can pick throughout the round, it’s just kind of guessed with the wind right in all of them. I think maybe I was a little more aggressive after that second shot on 6 and got in the mentality of making birdies instead of being a little tentative, which is easy to do when it’s blowing as hard as it was blowing today.”

Rahm, who went from tied for 116th on Wednesday to tied for 14th, said the cut line never came to mind.

“I was playing with the mindset of catching up to the leaders as much as possible, that’s it.”

Ryder, a 33-year-old who has never won on the PGA Tour, opened some distance after sharing the first-round lead with Aaron Rai and Brent Grant. Grant was in a group of six at 6 under.

“Yeah, it feels great. The thing I’ve been kind of telling myself is to just try and embrace it,” Ryder said. “It’s not a position that I’ve been in a lot, you know, so just trying to enjoy it. It’s kind of why we play, so just trying to look around and enjoy the moment.

“And I’m just doing everything pretty solid. It starts off the tee for me, I’m driving it well. My iron play is really good, so I feel like if I put it in the fairway, I can attack. And I don’t think I really missed many shots today. I missed a couple fairways, but the irons have been really good.”

Will Zalatoris, ranked No. 7 in the world, missed the cut after shooting 5-over 77 on the South Course.

The final two rounds will be on the South Course.


Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title

Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title
Updated 27 January 2023

Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title

Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title
  • The 25-year-old Paul, ranked 35th, is a surprise semifinalist, making this far at a major for the first time on the 14th attempt
  • Tsitsipas aims to snap a run of three semifinal losses in Melbourne as he meets Khachanov in the other last-four showdown

MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic has won all nine of his Australian Open semifinals and is not ready to let Tommy Paul ruin his unblemished record on Friday as he closes in on a 22nd Grand Slam crown.
The Serb, who won his first Slam at Melbourne Park in 2008, struggled physically in the early rounds this year with a hamstring injury.
But straight-sets thrashings of Alex de Minaur and Andrey Rublev for the loss of just 12 games ominously signalled that the favorite is back to his best for the semifinals.
Should he beat the unseeded American Paul on Rod Laver Arena, he will face either third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov as a final roadblock to a 10th Australian Open title on Sunday.
Djokovic has extra motivation to go all the way and equal Rafael Nadal’s 22nd Grand Slam crowns after missing last year’s event when he was deported over his Covid vaccination stance. In his absence the Spanish great won.
“I always try to give my best, particularly in Grand Slams, because at this stage of my career those are the tournaments that count the most,” said the 35-year-old.
“But you could say that there is something extra this year. You could say because, yeah, the injury, what happened last year, I just wanted to really do well.
“So far I have a perfect score in Australian hard courts, in Adelaide (which he won) and here. I’ve been playing better and better. I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in at the moment.”
With Djokovic on a 26-match win streak at the Australian Open — equalling Andre Agassi’s Open-era record at the first Grand Slam of the year — the 35th-ranked Paul is a heavy underdog.
The 25-year-old is a surprise semifinalist, making this far at a major for the first time on the 14th attempt.
“We never played a match against each other. Obviously he’s pretty comfortable here in Australia,” Paul said.
“It’s going to be a challenging match, but I’m playing some of my best tennis, so it’s a good time.”
Djokovic said he had been monitoring the American and would not underestimate the challenge.
“He’s been playing probably the tennis of his life,” he said. “Very explosive, very dynamic player. I think he can hit all the spots with the serve. Very complete player.
“First semifinals for him, so of course he doesn’t have much to lose.”

Tsitsipas versus Khachanov
Tsitsipas meets Khachanov in the other last-four showdown on Friday, aiming to snap a run of three semifinal losses in Melbourne, including over the past two years.
Now 24, he believes he has matured and that this could finally be his year as he bids to become the youngest champion since Djokovic won the title in 2011 aged 23.
“I’m feeling great with my tennis. I don’t think I felt so good in a long time,” the Greek said.
“I’ve said it — I’m a different player (from the past), playing different. My mentality is different.”
He has won all five previous encounters with Khachanov, most recently at the Rome Masters last year, and said he was eager to face the Russian again.
“It’s a match that I’m looking forward to,” he said. “I’m looking ahead for more, for better. Looking to create some magical experiences here in Australia.”
The 26-year-old Russian also made the semifinals at September’s US Open.
He has now made the quarters or better at all four Grand Slams and will draw on the experience when he plays the Greek star.
“I think the first semifinals, which I did in US Open, that gave me an extra boost and extra confidence to show where I really am, and what I can do when I’m at my best,” he said.
“I think all those things together, they push me to where I am right now.”

 


Sabalenka, Rybakina march into Australian Open final showdown

Sabalenka, Rybakina march into Australian Open final showdown
Updated 27 January 2023

Sabalenka, Rybakina march into Australian Open final showdown

Sabalenka, Rybakina march into Australian Open final showdown
  • Wimbledon champion Rybakina of Kazakhstan defeated two-time Melbourne winner Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Thursday
  • Belarusian Sabalenka marched into the championship match with a 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 win over Magda Linette of Poland

MELBOURNE: Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina will clash in Saturday’s Australian Open women’s final after both won in straight sets in the last four in Melbourne.
Wimbledon champion Rybakina defeated two-time Melbourne winner Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 at a blustery and chilly Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Thursday.
Belarusian Sabalenka then marched into the championship match with a 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 win over Magda Linette.
The 24-year-old Sabalenka will be a slight favorite to win the title, for what would be her first major crown, and promises to be a bruising showdown between two hard-hitters.
“I’m super happy, super happy that I was able to get this win,” said the fifth seed after reaching her first Grand Slam final.
“Magda’s an unbelievable player. She played really great tennis.”
Sabalenka has been in the form of her life since arriving in Australia.
She won the Adelaide International warm-up tournament and has now extended her unbeaten streak to 10 matches, not losing a single set in any of them.
But it was Poland’s Linette, contesting her first major semifinal aged 30, who was out of the gate fastest, breaking to love in the opening game and holding for an early lead.
Sabalenka was being made to work hard and showed all her new-found patience to get back on terms with a break of her own, to love, for 2-2 and the set went to a tiebreak.
Sabalenka timed her moment perfectly to up the aggression, and the decibel level, racing to 4-0 with a scream.
An ace that barely clipped the line stretched it to 5-0 and she closed out comfortably after 51 minutes, having smacked 20 winners to just seven from Linette.
“I would say that I didn’t start really well,” admitted Sabalenka.
“And then on the tiebreak I kind of found my rhythm and just started trusting myself, started going for the shots. It was great tennis from me in the tiebreak.”
Sabalenka showed no sign of letting up in the second set, breaking Linette and with a scream of “Come on!” holding for a 3-1 advantage.
A second break took her within sight of the finish line, which she raced across in 1hr 33min.

Rybakina, 23, said she hoped she had made her watching family proud after another impressive display.
The Moscow-born Kazakh prevailed in 1hr 41min against the 2012 and 2013 champion Azarenka of Belarus to account for a third major winner in as many matches.
The 22nd seed Rybakina had already defeated reigning French and US Open champion Iga Swiatek in the fourth round and 2017 Roland Garros winner Jelena Ostapenko in the quarter-finals.
Rybakina said her semifinal triumph was even more special because she had her sister and parents all watching at Melbourne Park for the first time.
“I’m super happy that we can spend evenings together and they can watch me live,” said Rybakina, whose parents were not there to see her win Wimbledon last year.
“For sure it’s great for them. I didn’t even talk with them yet. I’m sure they’re happy. They don’t see me often playing live, so I think this time, it’s a big result already.
“No matter how I play in the final, I think they’re very proud and happy.”
Azarenka, 33, was left to rue missed opportunities as her dream of a third Australian Open crown dissolved.
“Right now especially it’s kind of hard to digest,” she said.
“I’m proud of myself how I fought and I tried.
“Tennis-wise I felt like I just wasn’t there, especially in the important moments when I kept creating those opportunities for me. Just couldn’t convert them.”