WASHINGTON: The US backs moves to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part at the 2024 Olympics as neutral athletes provided they are prevented from displaying their national flags or emblems, the White House said Thursday.
“The United States has supported suspending Russia and Belarus’ sport national governing bodies from international sports federations,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
However, if athletes are invited to an international event, such as the Olympics, “it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarussian states,” she said.
“The use of official state Russian, Belarussian flags, emblems and anthems should be prohibited as well.”
The US position adds to a growing debate over the status of athletes from Russia and Belarus at the 2024 Paris Games.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky staunchly opposes any participation by Russian and Belarussian athletes, and has called for Russia to be banned over its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia is pushing for all restrictions to be lifted, arguing that the Olympics should not be politicized.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it is examining a “pathway” for Russians to take part in the summer Games, probably as neutral athletes.
Writing on Twitter shortly after the White House remarks on Thursday, Zelensky described the IOC’s stance as a “legitimization of the criminal aggression against Ukraine.”
“We won’t allow sport to be used against humanity & for war propaganda!” Zelensky tweeted.
The IOC’s willingness to allow Russian and Belarussian athletes in Paris has divided the sporting and diplomatic world.
On Wednesday, two UN rights experts applauded the IOC’s moves to allow athletes from the two countries to compete, arguing that no athlete should be “discriminated against on the basis of their nationality.”
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has also backed the IOC’s moves to create a pathway for Russian and Belarussian athletes.
In a conference call in December, USOPC chairwoman Susanne Lyons warned that the “fabric” of the Olympic movement was at risk if athletes were not given the chance to compete as neutrals.
Barring Russian and Belarussian athletes from Paris risked a return to the Olympic boycotts of the 1970s and 1980s.
“There are conflicts around the world every day, countries at war every day, and if people decide they want to boycott things, tit-for-tat, — ‘You didn’t come to our games, so we won’t come to your games’ — very quickly the fabric of the Olympic and paralympic movement falls apart,” Lyons said.
US Olympic officials are adamant however that athletes would only be able to participate in “strictly neutral” uniforms.
Similar words of support have come from the Olympic Council of Asia and the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.
But Britain, Poland and Baltic nations have all condemned the IOC’s position.
Writing on Twitter after a meeting with his counterparts from the Baltics and Poland in Riga earlier this week, Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics said allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Olympics was “immoral and wrong.”
British Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said the IOC’s plans were “a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people.”
“We will strongly condemn any action taken that allows President Putin to legitimize his illegal war in Ukraine — a position the IOC previously shared,” Donelan said.
“We, and many other countries, have been unequivocal on this throughout, and we will now work urgently across like-minded countries to ensure that solidarity continues on this issue.”
Hamdallah is now the top scorer of the season by 15 goals so far, keeping Al-Nassr’s Talisca one goal behind
Updated 20 March 2023
Riyadh: Abderrazak Hamdallah has been voted Roshn Saudi League player of the week by statistical website Sofascore after scoring a hat-trick in round 21 of the season.
The 32-year-old Moroccan star of Al-Ittihad rated 9.8 after scoring three out of five goals in the 5-1 victory against Al-Fateh.
Hamdallah is now the top scorer of the season by 15 goals so far, keeping Al-Nassr’s Talisca one goal behind.
Goalkeeper Martin Campana of Al-Batin was the only star of his category.
Hassan Al-Tambakti from Al-Shabab, Oscar Duarte from Al-Wehda and Ali Al-Salem from Al-Adalah were the best defenders.
In midfield, Andre Carrillo of Al-Hilal, Igor Coronado from Al-Ittihad, Lucas Souza from Al-Khaleej, Abdullah Al-Ammar from Damac and Abdulrahman Al-Obud from Al-Ittihad ranked top of their categories.
Odion Ighalo of Al-Hilal and Hamdallah were the best performers in the forward line.
Sharjah Self-Defense victorious at AJP Tour Abu Dhabi International Jiu-Jitsu Championship
Baniyas Jiu-Jitsu Club took second place while Al-Ain was third
Updated 20 March 2023
ABU DHABI: The AJP Tour Abu Dhabi International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship ended at Mubadala Arena on Sunday with Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club the big winners, forcing Baniyas Jiu-Jitsu Club to settle for second and Al-Ain to take third.
The event was organized by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, or UAEJJF, in association with Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu Pro.
Mansour Al-Dhaheri, member of the board of directors of the UAEJJF, said that the AJP championships were on a par with the highest international standards at the organizational and technical levels.
“As anticipated, the AJP Tour Abu Dhabi International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship was a great success, especially in terms of attendance since it was able to attract a good number of seasoned stars. The event was also successful in giving hundreds of male and female players from about 50 nations a highly competitive environment, demonstrating that the UAE is the home of champions and their first choice of destination for achieving glory.”
Al-Dhaheri said that the competition offered UAE athletes and their competitors a favorable environment to prepare for international and continental contests.
Mohammed Alswaidi, of the Baniyas Jiu-Jitsu Club, who scooped gold in the Men’s Brown/Professional/69kg division, said: “Winning a medal means the excellent training I have done has paid off. We are eager to make the most of all the resources the UAEJJF Jiu-Jitsu Federation and the clubs to which we belong have made available to us. We also believe that every competition presents an opportunity for us to repay them and make the nation proud.”
Lilit Danielyan, from Legacy Jiu-Jitsu Armenia, grabbed bronze in the Women’s Purple/Professional/55kg, division. She said: “I have heard a lot of good things about the Abu Dhabi championships, but today I actually got to experience them. It is the perfect destination for those hoping to fulfill their aspirations in this sport. This championship is an example of superb planning and hosting that meets the highest international standards.”
Floyd Mayweather suggests he could take part in Saudi exhibition fight
Former UFC champion Jose Aldo Jr. had also revealed he was in talks with Mayweather for a bout later this year in the Kingdom
Updated 20 March 2023
Former world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather has hinted he may soon lace up a pair of boxing gloves in Saudi Arabia for an exhibition bout.
“(Boxing is) also growing in Saudi Arabia. I had a chance to go to Saudi Arabia five or six years ago. And we talked about me fighting over in Saudi Arabia. Actually, I believe I am fighting in Saudi Arabia also,” Mayweather said.
Mayweather made the claim while providing ringside commentary for a boxing tournament in the UAE. The card featured a heavyweight clash between America’s Jarrell Miller and Australia’s Lucas Browne.
During the same broadcast, Mayweather spoke positively about Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Earlier this year, the American boxer announced he would participate in five exhibition bouts. This exhibition world tour was set to include South Korea, Germany, Japan, Australia and the US. He did not mention an exhibition in Saudi Arabia.
However, last month former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo Jr. reportedly revealed that he was in talks with Mayweather for a bout later this year in Saudi Arabia. Aldo Jr. is 36, while Mayweather is 46 years old. Aldo Jr. made his professional boxing debut in February this year in his native Brazil.
Over his 27-year career, Mayweather has flirted with the idea of adding Saudi Arabia to the list of countries in which he wants to fight.
Mayweather posted a video online in 2019 in which he announced he was coming to Saudi Arabia to discuss the Kingdom hosting a rematch with Manny Pacquiao, as previously reported by Arab News.
Mayweather had emerged victorious when he faced long-time rival Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 2015 in what was considered the fight of the century. Mayweather fought twice more as a professional boxer, including a stoppage win over former UFC star Connor McGregor before retiring from boxing in 2017. He compiled an undefeated record of 50 wins in as many bouts.
Since then, he has competed in six exhibition fights. Three of those bouts ended with Mayweather stopping his opponents. Most recently, Mayweather appeared in London on Feb. 25 for an exhibition with British TV star Aaron Chalmer.
Antetokounmpo, Lopez to the fore as Bucks bounce back against Raptors
Los Angeles Lakers bounced back from Friday’s agonizing loss to Dallas to see off Orlando 111-105
Updated 20 March 2023
LOS ANGELES: Giannis Antetokounmpo bagged a triple-double and Brook Lopez delivered a huge fourth quarter as the Milwaukee Bucks returned to winning ways with a 118-111 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
The Eastern Conference leaders, jolted by a lopsided loss to Indiana on Thursday, returned to form with a dogged come-from-behind win over the Raptors at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum.
Toronto led by eight near the end of the third quarter, but were overpowered down the stretch with Lopez scoring 17 of his 26 points in the final period to drag Milwaukee over the line.
Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists as Milwaukee improved to 51-20 at the top of the Eastern Conference, 2.5 games clear of the in-form Philadelphia 76ers.
Fred VanVleet led Toronto’s scorers with 23 points.
In other games on Sunday, Austin Reaves scored a career-high 35 points as the Los Angeles Lakers bounced back from Friday’s agonizing loss to Dallas to see off Orlando 111-105.
The Lakers, battling to remain in the hunt for a postseason berth in the Western Conference, were left shellshocked after a buzzer-beating loss to the Mavs on Friday.
It looked as if history might repeat itself on Sunday as the Magic closed to 101-101 with 2 minutes and 39 seconds remaining.
But Reaves took over by rattling in his team’s final 10 points to secure a win which lifted the Lakers into the play-in positions.
“It’s a good win,” Reaves said afterward. “Every win from now is crucial, and every game from now is crucial.
“It’s all about how we approach the game — if we’re locked in to what we need to do I feel like we’ve got the firepower to be one of the best teams in the league.”
In Portland, the Trail Blazers’ playoff push suffered a blow with a 117-102 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers never trailed throughout, with Paul George finishing with 29 points and Kawhi Leonard with 24 points.
The loss leaves Portland in 13th place in the Western Conference with a 31-40 record, three spots outside the play-in places.
Elsewhere Sunday, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 40 points as the Oklahoma City Thunder staged a second-half rally to eclipse Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns.
Gilgeous-Alexander shot 12-of-24 from the field while draining 16-of-19 free throws as Oklahoma City overturned a 15-point first-half deficit to complete a 124-120 victory.
The Thunder trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter but outscored Phoenix 34-24 in the final frame — with Gilgeous-Alexander contributing 10 points — to grab victory.
The win boosts Oklahoma City’s playoff hopes, with the Thunder improving to 35-36 in the Western Conference for eighth place.
Only a handful of games separate a swath of teams jostling for the postseason in the West, where Phoenix remain in fourth place with a 38-33 record.
Phoenix, meanwhile, were sparked by 46 points from Booker but saw only three other players break into double figures after a steely OKC defensive display in the second half.
“It was a total team effort,” Gilgeous-Alexander said afterward. “There was some adversity throughout the game, but we just kept pushing and stuck to our gameplan and came up with the ‘W’.”
Also, Nikola Jokic’s 28th triple-double of the season helped the Denver Nuggets take a 108-102 win on the road against the Brooklyn Nets.
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic finished with 22 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists as the Western Conference leaders improved to 48-24. The Nuggets have already assured themselves of a postseason berth and are now aiming to lock down top seed in the final three weeks of the regular season.
Michael Porter Jr. led the Denver scorers with 28 points, while Jamal Murray added 25.
In San Antonio, Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell both finished with 29 points as the Spurs fought back from 24 points down to stun the visiting Atlanta Hawks 126-118.
The Hawks looked to be romping to a comfortable road win after piling on 83 first-half points to lead by 22 at half time.
But the Spurs — already eliminated from postseason contention — flipped the script after the break, outscoring Atlanta 39-20 in the third before a 26-15 fourth quarter.
The meteoric rise of Jordanian teen Abdullah Shelbayh
The 19-year-old tennis talent honed his skills at the Rafa Nadal Academy and managed to crack the top-300 in less than a year
Updated 20 March 2023
When Abdullah Shelbayh decided to turn pro last May after giving college a try for a year, he probably could not have predicted that he would rise from 1,293 to 276 in the rankings within the span of nine months.
With no match-play under his belt between October 2021 and June 2022, Shelbayh quickly shook off the rust and enjoyed a strong start to his professional career, winning two of his first five ITF tournaments last year before making the semifinals on his Challenger Tour debut in Mallorca.
It was a week in Bahrain last month, however, that proved to be truly life-changing for the 19-year-old Jordanian. Competing in just his third Challenger tournament of his career, and ranked 399 in the world, Shelbayh battled his way through a tricky draw to become the youngest Arab in history to reach the final of a Challenger Tour event.
En route to the championship match, the teenage lefty knocked out world No. 79 Jason Kubler in the quarter-finals to post his first victory over a top-100 opponent and walked away from Bahrain with a runner-up trophy, 75 valuable ranking points and a career-high mark of 276.
Two days later, he made his ATP tour debut thanks to a wild card into the Qatar Open main draw and fought valiantly in a three-set defeat to world No. 68 Kwon Soonwoo.
“I thought it was going to take more time to adapt (to the higher level at Challengers and ATP events) but since I played my first Challenger in Mallorca in August, I started believing in myself more,” Shelbayh told Arab News in a Zoom interview from Miami, where he was handed a wildcard for this week’s qualifying draw of the prestigious ATP Masters 1000 tournament.
“I knew I had the level but it was about keeping it more consistently, because that’s what it takes in order to keep on jumping up in the rankings.
“I went to Doha with a lot of confidence.”
A natural-born competitor, Shelbayh is the first player from Jordan to reach this level in the sport. Coming from a country with little tennis tradition did not stop him from dreaming big from a very young age.
He was introduced to tennis courtesy of his father, who played recreationally, and trained in Jordan until he was 14 before moving to Spain.
“Competition is in my blood, I’ve always been competitive, I’ve always wanted to do better than others. Some things are natural and I was lucky to be able to be that competitive, and always ask for more,” Shelbayh said.
“It’s good to be ambitious. I’ve always seen myself competing with those (top) guys when I was a kid and that’s why I started playing tennis. I never really played tennis just because — I mean of course I love the sport and everything but it was never like I’m playing because I just enjoy it, it’s because I also believe that I could be competing one day with those guys.
“I’m still not there, but I hope I’ll be there more often very soon. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’m willing to work for it, I’m willing to do whatever it takes, no matter if it takes two months, one year, whatever. I’ll always give my best and wait for the right moment.”
The Rafa Nadal effect
In 2018, Shelbayh and his family made a decision that would change the course of his life; they sent him to the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Spain.
It was with the help of Princess Lara Faisal, who sought out Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal’s uncle and former coach, to come to Jordan and see if Shelbayh had what it took to join the academy.
Toni Nadal confirmed what everyone had been saying about Shelbayh, that he was a promising young talent who needed to be developed in the right way. That inspired Princess Lara to set up the Rise for Good Sports Fund to help Shelbayh and other gifted prospects pursue their dreams in sport.
“We have so much talent in the Arab world but we don’t equip our talents with the right tools and experience to achieve their highest potential,” said Princess Lara in an email interview.
“Sports, music, the arts, they are all still considered extracurricular in our part of the world, almost a luxury, their power and importance to the progress and development of a society is underappreciated.
“Here was a young boy that had so much potential but just needed a little help. I was in a position to help him. So I did. Best decision I ever made. I’ve been with Abboud since, and I hope to always by by his side on this journey.”
Moving to Spain at such a young age was no easy transition for Shelbayh, but it also gave him a dream opportunity to come up close and personal with his idol Rafael Nadal. Shelbayh switched to being left-handed in tennis when he was young just to emulate Nadal — they are both naturally right-handed — and suddenly he was at the 22-time Grand Slam champion’s academy, receiving elite-level coaching and sharing the court with Rafa and Toni during practice sessions.
“At a young age, meeting my idol, and having the chance to practice with him many times and speak to him. Be able to ask him things, him telling me the things I need to change, things I would need to do in order to reach the top level, is a unique thing honestly,” Shelbayh said.
“I was fortunate enough to have that. It’s something I can never replace.”
‘I had to get out of my comfort zone’
In a docu-series about the academy, shot in 2020 and released on Amazon Prime, Toni describes Shelbayh as a “natural talent,” while Carlos Costa, Rafa’s agent, says he’s “creative.”
Rafael Nadal predicted that the Jordanian was “highly likely to make a living from tennis” but added that “he’s still a bit disorganized and the objective of the people around him, and his as well, is to organize all that talent.”
Toni noted that “Abdullah has a problem. He trains well one time out of . . . I can’t even say how many. In the end we have to change that.”
Three years on from the days of filming that documentary, Shelbayh says he is a changed man and assures that he has taken the time to mature and find his way.
“In tennis, in any sport, you need to be mature enough. That’s why I had to get out of my comfort zone, change many things, and I’m happy that I managed to change that at quite an early age I would say, since it’s not an easy thing to do,” Shelbayh said.
College vs the pros
Spending a year at University of Florida proved to be the change of scenery that Shelbayh needed. He didn’t get a chance to play any college tennis while he was there, which fueled his hunger even more.
“Going to college was a last-second thing, I signed with them when I didn’t know how my last year of juniors was going to go, I didn’t really feel well on court. I had some personal issues, so it was a way to disconnect and change things up and get out of my comfort zone a bit,” he said.
“I didn’t have the chance to play, which annoyed me; which is normal, it would annoy any player honestly, but it kind of pushed me to work harder. After the (academic) year, in June 2022 I went back to Spain to Mallorca to the academy and there I said I’m going to keep doing whatever I can do in order to go pro, because that’s the reason I started playing tennis.
“I found myself mentally in a better place by the end of my college year.
“It was not easy to leave college because you never know if it’s the best decision or not, but I went with my heart and realizing that’s why I started playing tennis, to go pro. I had a good summer and that encouraged me even more to just, like, say: OK, I’ll do online, I won’t stop studying until I finish, but I’ll go pro.”
‘I was brave enough to change’
Shelbayh’s impressive results on the pro circuit have helped reassure him that leaving the University of Florida was the right call for him. He has taken the necessary steps to improve his overall approach to the sport and his work ethic has significantly improved.
Asked what triggered his decision to step up, Shelbayh said: “I think seeing other people doing better than me when everyone around me, in terms of tennis experts, like Rafa Nadal himself, Carlos Moya, Toni Nadal, all of them say how much talent I have and how much better I could be already at that age by just changing some things.
“Seeing others do well and I’m like, ‘I can do that too, why can I not do that?’ I asked myself a lot of times, ‘Why?’ That’s the thing that helped me change. It took a lot of courage.
“I don’t think it was an easy thing. I was brave enough to admit that I had to change when I was young because I could have kept fighting against it, saying I have time, I have time. That could have ended my career early, could have changed many things, who knows . . . I’m happy I changed at the right time.”
The Jabeur connection
Shelbayh is one of three Arab men ranked in the top 300 and is the youngest of the lot.
He opens his Miami Open qualifying campaign this week against Christopher Eubanks of the US.
The only other Arabs in action in Miami are on the women’s side, with Tunisian Ons Jabeur seeded No. 4 and Egyptian Mayar Sherif a direct entrant into the main draw.
Shelbayh and Jabeur have an interesting connection in that they were both coached by Rafik Bouchlaka in their formative early years as tennis players.
Jabeur, a Wimbledon and US Open finalist and former world No. 2, spent about two years working with Bouchlaka in Tunisia and she credits him for making significant improvements in her game as a youngster, while Shelbayh trained with him in Jordan between the age of nine and 14 before moving to Mallorca.
“He was a very important part of my tennis career,” said Shelbayh of Bouchlaka.
“He helped me a lot through my early years. He always gave me examples of how Ons worked and how bad she wanted it and everything. Ons was his example always, which motivated me a lot.
“And now, it’s great to have someone like her in the Arab world being at the top of the game. She motivates all of us, I can speak for myself and everyone else honestly, it’s something incredible to have that, first time ever, to have someone that high in the ranking, it’s unbelievable. I hope I can be there as well and I hope I can learn a lot from her.”
Shelbayh’s target for the rest of the season is to compete in all three remaining Grand Slams — Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open — and to finish the year ranked inside the top 150.
“It’s a long way, it’s not easy, but I feel like I’m capable of doing that,” he said.
‘I hope I can make my country proud’
He has a solid team in place with his coach James Allenby from the Rafa Nadal Academy traveling with him, Princess Lara supporting him, and he recently signed with IMG’s Mats Merkel to be his agent.
The whole team at the academy consistently lend their support, and the likes of Toni Nadal, Carlos Costa and Carlos Moya were messaging him throughout his statement run in Bahrain last month.
Being the sole representative from Jordan in the world of tennis, Shelbayh is already setting records for his country with every significant milestone.
“It’s something great, it’s a pleasure honestly. There is pressure at the same time but it’s good pressure, I take it in a good way,” he said.
“I like pressure and I feel like every athlete needs some pressure. There is pressure of trying to always keep up the good image. Jordan is not known for tennis, not even many sports; so to be the first in many things is an honor for me to represent my country in every tournament that I play and trying my best to represent it in the best way possible.
“I hope I can make my country proud.”
He’s well on his way to achieving just that. Many would argue he already has.