German club Mainz terminates Anwar El Ghazi’s contract over social media posts on Israel-Hamas war

German Bundesliga club Mainz sacked footballer Anwar El Ghazi on November 3, 2023, hours after German prosecutors opened an investigation over his social media posts on the Israel-Hamas war. (AFP)
German Bundesliga club Mainz sacked footballer Anwar El Ghazi on November 3, 2023, hours after German prosecutors opened an investigation over his social media posts on the Israel-Hamas war. (AFP)
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Updated 03 November 2023
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German club Mainz terminates Anwar El Ghazi’s contract over social media posts on Israel-Hamas war

German club Mainz terminates Anwar El Ghazi’s contract over social media posts on Israel-Hamas war
  • Mainz originally suspended El Ghazi on Oct. 17, saying he had posted and then deleted a message about the war that the club deemed “unacceptable”

MAINZ: German soccer club Mainz terminated the contract of Dutch forward Anwar El Ghazi on Friday following his social media posts about the Israel-Hamas war.
The announcement by Mainz came two days after El Ghazi disputed the club’s version of events when it lifted an earlier suspension. German news agency dpa reported Friday that prosecutors in the city of Koblenz were also investigating.
Mainz originally suspended El Ghazi on Oct. 17, saying he had posted and then deleted a message about the war that the club deemed “unacceptable.”
On Monday, the club said his suspension was lifted and that he would receive a reprimand. Mainz said that followed talks with the management and that El Ghazi “regrets publishing the post and also was remorseful about its negative impact.” The club added that the player “also stated that he does not question Israel’s right to exist.”
However, in a further social media post on Wednesday, El Ghazi indicated that the club had issued its statement without his permission.
“I do not regret or have any remorse for my position,” the player wrote. “I do not distance myself from what I said and I stand, today and always until my last breath, for humanity and the oppressed.”
The 28-year-old El Ghazi, who previously played for PSV Eindhoven, Aston Villa and Everton, joined Mainz as a free agent in September. He made three appearances as a substitute for the team, which is last in the German league.
In response to Mainz saying that his contract was terminated Friday, El Ghazi posted: “The loss of my livelihood is nothing when compared to the hell being unleashed on the innocent and vulnerable in Gaza.”


Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’

Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’
Updated 22 April 2024
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Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’

Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’
  • Al-Shabab midfielder would waste no time in promoting the Kingdom to his former Croatia teammate if he decides to leave Real Madrid

LONDON: Ivan Rakitic hopes his strong brotherly bond with his former Croatia team-mate Luka Modric can persuade the timeless maestro to join him at Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League.

Modric may be 38 but Rakitic said that his enduring class was something his fellow Real Madrid midfielder, the free-scoring tyro Jude Bellingham, could learn from.

Modric’s Real Madrid contract expires in the summer, and rumors of a move to Saudi Arabia have been swirling. Rakitic, eager to reunite with his former teammate, would be delighted to help facilitate it.

“If you come to Saudi but don’t come to Al-Shabab, you’re going to have some problems with me,” Rakitic told Arab News with a laugh when asked what he would tell Modric, whom he has said “is like a brother to me.”

Rakitic suffered an injury inlets month’s 4-3 home defeat to Al-Hilal and was absent from Al-Shabab’s 5-0 win over Abha on Thursday, a result that sees them sit ninth in the Saudi Pro League table.

The 36-year-old joined the Riyadh club from La Liga side Sevilla in January and told Arab News over Zoom that he would be thrilled to share a pitch again with Modric, with whom he played for Croatia for 12 years until his international retirement in 2019.

The pair’s midfield majesty helped to propel Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final, which they lost 4-2 to France.

“If he decides to move, it would be amazing. I would call him directly after two minutes to try to do everything for Al-Shabab, for Saudi, to bring him to the Saudi Pro League, or give him all the information that maybe he needs.

“If he decides to stay in Madrid for one more year, I think enjoying Luka at the highest level would also be amazing.”

A renowned playmaker after trophy-laden spells at Barcelona and Sevilla, Rakitic is well-placed to assess the merits of other leading midfielders.

Of the credentials of England’s Bellingham, who, at only 20, has enjoyed a marvelous debut season with Real Madrid and scored a stoppage time winner in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Barcelona, Rakitic said: “Of course, (there are many talented young players) and Jude is one of the first we look for but I like the old generation. I like Luka, (Kevin) De Bruyne, Bernardo. I have (so much) respect for Real Madrid because they were able to understand they had to do this change of generation step by step by giving the opportunity to big talents like Bellingham, (Federico) Valverde, (Eduardo) Camavinga. But there are still many things to learn from Luka and Toni (Kroos).”

Bellingham, Camavinga, Modric and Kroos are all set to appear at Euro 2024 in the summer and Rakitic expects “a really special” tournament. He said there would be “surprises for sure” and cited hosts Germany, France, and Portugal as his top contenders.

Rakitic also believes Croatia and the evergreen Modric can have “a big tournament” — despite being in a tough group with Spain and Italy.

He is similarly enthusiastic about Saudi Arabia hosting the 2034 World Cup.

“I think it will be the best World Cup because if the Saudis are at the top in something it is in organization and motivation,” he said.

An interview with Rakitic would not be complete without mentioning the iconic triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez with whom Rakitic enjoyed halcyon days at Barcelona.

“Why not? I think we can do many, many, many important things together,” Rakitic said when Arab News mooted the dream scenario of him and the legendary trio joining forces in Saudi Arabia.

Messi may have rejected Al-Hilal’s $399 million-a-year deal last summer in favor of joining Inter Miami in the US but remains the Kingdom’s tourism ambassador.

Xavi has vowed to quit as Barcelona manager in the summer and has significant experience in the Middle East, having played for and managed Al-Sadd in Qatar between 2015 and 2021.

Iniesta is already in the region after joining Emirates Club in the UAE on a one-year deal in August.

“I think the season we did together, 2014-2015, I think (we were) the best team in the history of football,” Rakitic said.

Barcelona won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League, becoming the first European team to secure the treble twice — a feat Bayern Munich emulated in 2020.

“(We achieved) the perfect Champions League that season (beating) the French champions (Paris Saint-Germain), the English champions (Manchester City), the German champions (Bayern Munich) and the Italian champions (Juventus). It was the best season possible.”

Messi reportedly asked the Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham to persuade Rakitic to join his club last year.

But Rakitic said he “never spoke” to the former England, Real Madrid and Manchester United star.

“Hopefully I can speak to him because I’m a big fan,” he said.

“I wear my (Adidas) Predators because I saw him taking his free-kicks with (those boots). If David would like to meet and even take some free-kicks together, it would be amazing.”


Indonesia eliminate Jordan, join Qatar in last 8 of AFC U-23 Asian Cup

Indonesia eliminate Jordan, join Qatar in last 8 of AFC U-23 Asian Cup
Updated 22 April 2024
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Indonesia eliminate Jordan, join Qatar in last 8 of AFC U-23 Asian Cup

Indonesia eliminate Jordan, join Qatar in last 8 of AFC U-23 Asian Cup
  • A 4-1 win secured second spot in Group A of the tournament which also provides a pathway to 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

DOHA: Indonesia on Sunday beat Jordan 4-1 at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha to reach the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup.

Indonesia has now secured second spot in Group A behind already-qualified hosts Qatar, who drew 0-0 against Australia on the same day at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan.

The tournament, which runs until May 3, provides a pathway to the men’s football competition at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Indonesia led 2-0 at half time thanks to Marcelino Ferdinan’s penalty on 23 minutes and Witan Sulaeman’s strike five minutes before the break.

Ferdinan made it 3-0 after 70 minutes before Jordan’s consolation nine minutes later came via an own goal from Justin Hubner.

Komang Teguh ensured there would be no late drama by making it 4-1 with four minutes of the 90 left.

In Monday’s action, a draw against Iraq will be enough for Saudi Arabia to secure top spot in Group C, while Thailand and Tajikistan meet at Al-Janoub Stadium in Wakrah.

After two rounds of matches, Saudi Arabia lead the group with a maximum of six points while Thailand are second with three points on goal difference from Iraq. All three can still qualify for the quarterfinals while bottom-of-the-table Tajikistan, with no points, have already been eliminated.

Monday will also see the conclusion of Group B. South Korea meet Japan, with both having already ensured progress; and the UAE and China clash in a dead rubber having amassed no points between them so far.

The tournament has 16 nations split into four groups, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. For the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, the winners of the two semifinals secure automatic qualification.

The two losing semifinalists will compete for third place, with the winner also booking a place in Paris. The fourth-place finisher has a final chance with a playoff against an African qualifier.


Mixed martial artist Paul Hughes joins Professional Fighters League

Mixed martial artist Paul Hughes joins Professional Fighters League
Updated 22 April 2024
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Mixed martial artist Paul Hughes joins Professional Fighters League

Mixed martial artist Paul Hughes joins Professional Fighters League
  • The 27-year-old has inked an exclusive, multi-fight contract with Saudi Arabia-backed PFL

NEW YORK: The Saudi Arabia-backed Professional Fighters League has signed Ireland’s Paul Hughes (11-1) to an exclusive, multi-fight contract.

“I am absolutely ecstatic to sign with the PFL. The regular season format, in my eyes, is the ultimate form of MMA competition and is for the ultimate prize of one million dollars,” Hughes said, according to a press release issued Monday. “I’m ready to prove that I am the best lightweight on the planet.”

The PFL’s CEO Peter Murray said: “The Professional Fighters League is always going to be in the mix when it comes to the free-agency market and this was certainly the case with Paul Hughes, someone we have had our eye on for quite some time. I’m looking forward to seeing Paul continue his journey with PFL in big fights that continue to test his skills.”

Hughes, 27, a former Cage Warriors featherweight champion, is on a five-fight winning streak, with eight of his 11 victories coming via stoppage.


’I have nothing to hide,’ says motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem

’I have nothing to hide,’ says motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem
Updated 22 April 2024
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’I have nothing to hide,’ says motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem

’I have nothing to hide,’ says motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem
  • The UAE national, a former rally driver, was also cleared by the FIA ethics committee of influencing the results of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last year
  • The reasons why FIA president would have wanted to prevent the Las Vegas race from taking place have never been explained

SHANGHAI: Motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem says he has “nothing to hide” and “I play by the rules” after being cleared of accusations that he interfered with the organization of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.

The president of governing body the FIA had been accused of asking officials “to find some concerns to prevent the FIA from certifying the (Las Vegas) circuit” before it hosted a grand prix for the first time in 2023, according to an internal FIA report.

The UAE national, a former rally driver, was also cleared by the FIA ethics committee of influencing the results of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last year.

“I wish it was only an accusation, but I was already convicted in the court of public opinion,” Ben Sulayem told media including AFP at the Chinese Grand Prix at the weekend.

“I have nothing to hide.”

“I’m proud of the work I’ve accomplished,” added Ben Sulayem of his tenure since being elected FIA president in December 2021.

The reasons why the president of the FIA would have wanted to prevent the Las Vegas race from taking place have never been explained.

However, there have been claims of tensions over influence in the sport between the FIA and American group Liberty Media, who own the commercial rights to Formula One and organized the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

But Ben Sulayem said his relationship with Formula One Management (FOM) was “very good.”

“FOM is our partner,” said Ben Sulayem. “I don’t have any problems. I just want to continue doing business with them.”

As for the past allegations against him, Ben Sulayem was adamant that he played it by the book.

“I can stand tall and look you in the eyes and say I am a sportsman and I play by the rules,” he said.


Lillard leads short-handed Bucks over Pacers, Clippers and Celtics win playoff openers

Lillard leads short-handed Bucks over Pacers, Clippers and Celtics win playoff openers
Updated 22 April 2024
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Lillard leads short-handed Bucks over Pacers, Clippers and Celtics win playoff openers

Lillard leads short-handed Bucks over Pacers, Clippers and Celtics win playoff openers
  • The Bucks followed the blueprint laid out earlier Sunday by the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, who both got off to strong starts in convincing Game 1 victories
  • Jayson Tatum’s first playoff triple-double of 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists propelled the Celtics

WASHINGTON: Damian Lillard scored all 35 of his points in the first half as the Milwaukee Bucks struck early in a 109-94 victory over Indiana in their NBA playoffs opener despite the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks followed the blueprint laid out earlier Sunday by the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, who both got off to strong starts in convincing Game 1 victories.

Eastern Conference top seeds Boston raced to a 14-0 lead to set the tone for a 114-94 victory over the Miami Heat in the first game of their best-of-seven series.

The Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard sidelined with knee inflammation, led wire-to-wire in a 109-07 victory over Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, who put up just eight points in a shocking second quarter performance.

James Harden scored 28 points and handed out eight assists for the Clippers, drilling six of their 18 three-pointers.

Paul George added 22 points and Ivica Zubac scored 20 points with 15 rebounds for Los Angeles, who seized control early as Dallas and NBA regular-season scoring leader Doncic struggled.

The Mavs connected on just two of 21 attempts in the second quarter, putting up 30 in the first half to trail by 26 at the break.

Eight-time All-Star Kyrie Irving made all eight of his attempts on the way to 20 points in the third quarter as the Mavericks buckled down.

Doncic would finish with 33 points and 13 rebounds and Irving scored 31, but they were in too deep of a hole to escape.

“In the second half, that is how we should play the whole game,” said Doncic, who was named Sunday as a finalist for the NBA Most Valuable Player award along with Nikola Jokic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Mavs coach Jason Kidd said his players were too passive in the face of the Clippers early physicality, and Harden said that was just the effect the Clippers were going for.

“We know (what) offensive power those guys have over there,” Harden said. “We can’t ease into games. We’ve got to be the physicality team from the beginning and we did that.”

The Clippers beat the Mavs in the first round in both 2020 and 2021, but Harden said they expected Dallas to step it up when the series continues on Tuesday.

“We can’t get satisfied with winning the first game,” Harden warned.

In Milwaukee, the Bucks were more than up to the task without Antetokounmpo, who remained sidelined with a left calf injury.

Lillard’s explosive first half included a 19-point first quarter, and his 35 points were a record for any Bucks player in any half of a playoff game.

He made 11 of 22 shots, including six three-pointers to stake the Bucks to a 69-42 halftime lead.

He didn’t make a basket in the second half, but his teammates picked up the slack and the prolific Pacers offense was held under 100 points for just the second time this season.

Tyrese Haliburton, chosen ahead of Lillard for the US Paris Olympic squad, finished with just nine points for the Pacers, who were led by Pascal Siakam’s 36 points and 13 rebounds.

In Boston, Jayson Tatum’s first playoff triple-double of 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists propelled the Celtics.

Miami have emerged from the play-in as the East’s eighth seed for the second straight season.

Last year they beat Boston in the conference finals before falling to Denver in the championship series, but with Jimmy Butler nursing a knee ligament injury their chances of a similar run look remote.

Bam Adebayo led Miami with 24 points and six rebounds in Butler’s absence.

Tatum was one of six Celtics to score in double figures and Boston made 22 three-pointers to keep the Heat on their heels.

But Tatum was disappointed that the Celtics took their foot off the gas in the fourth.

“They’re not going to give up, they’re not going to lay down,” he said. “Human nature can play a factor, but you can’t relax.”