FIFA’s Infantino condemns ‘abhorrent’ racism during games in Italy, England

FIFA’s Infantino condemns ‘abhorrent’ racism during games in Italy, England
AC Milan's Mike Maignan talks to referee Fabio Maresca after allegedly being racially abused by Udinese fans on Saturday. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 January 2024
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FIFA’s Infantino condemns ‘abhorrent’ racism during games in Italy, England

FIFA’s Infantino condemns ‘abhorrent’ racism during games in Italy, England
  • Fans aimed monkey chants at AC Milan and France goalkeeper Mike Maignan during Milan’s dramatic 3-2 win at Udinese, with the game temporarily halted
  • Italy, a country governed by a coalition led by the far-right Brothers of Italy party, is rife with fascist football fan groups

LONDON: FIFA President Gianni Infantino called for worldwide stadium bans for fans and “automatic forfeits” for teams whose supporters hurl “abhorrent” abuse following racist incidents in Italy and England on Saturday.

The head of the world governing body said there was no place for discrimination of any kind in football or broader society.

“The events that took place in Udine and Sheffield on Saturday are totally abhorrent and completely unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

“The players affected by Saturday’s events have my undivided support.”

Fans aimed monkey chants at AC Milan and France goalkeeper Mike Maignan during Milan’s dramatic 3-2 win at Udinese, with the game temporarily halted.

Coventry midfielder Kasey Palmer accused Sheffield Wednesday fans of doing the same toward him during their English Championship clash, which his team won 2-1.

“We need all the relevant stakeholders to take action, starting with education in schools so that future generations understand that this is not part of football or society,” Infantino said.

“As well as the three-step process (match stopped, match re-stopped, match abandoned), we have to implement an automatic forfeit for the team whose fans have committed racism and caused the match to be abandoned as well as worldwide stadium bans and criminal charges for racists.

“FIFA and football shows full solidarity to victims of racism and any form of discrimination. Once and for all: No to racism! No to any form of discrimination!“

At Udinese, referee Fabio Maresca stopped play during the first half and a livid Maignan stormed down the tunnel with his teammates.

“They’re ignorant people.... You can be booed or whistled when you’re away from home, that’s normal, but what happened today has no place in football,” Maignan told Sky Sports.

Play resumed after about five minutes.

Italy, a country governed by a coalition led by the far-right Brothers of Italy party, is rife with fascist football fan groups, in particular among the hardcore “ultras” who make most of the atmosphere at stadiums.

Last week Lazio were hit with a one-match stand closure after supporters directed monkey chants at Romelu Lukaku during their team’s Italian Cup win over local rivals Roma.

In Sheffield, Palmer labelled the abuse “abhorrent and wholly unacceptable,” with the match paused as the referee spoke to both managers on the touchline.

In a statement, Sheffield Wednesday said they were “shocked and saddened by the racist gesture from the stands reported by Sky Blues player Kasey Palmer.”

“Both clubs roundly condemn any form of discrimination and abuse, and underline that there is no place for this kind of behavior in football or our wider society,” it added.

“We will work together with the relevant authorities and anyone proven to be culpable will face the strictest possible sanctions from both Sheffield Wednesday and the law.”


Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre

Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre
Updated 7 sec ago
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Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre

Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre
  • Before May had run its course, Laporta sacked the former Barca midfield great and appointed German coach Hansi Flick in his stead
  • “You will suffer — this is a very complicated place to be,” Xavi warned his successor

BARCELONA: At the end of April, Barcelona president Joan Laporta, choking with emotion, said he was “proud” to have Xavi Hernandez staying on as coach for next season.
Before May had run its course, Laporta sacked the former Barca midfield great and appointed German coach Hansi Flick in his stead.
Since the president was re-elected for his second spell in charge in March 2021, Barcelona have been without a coherent plan, running purely on vibes. It can only get you so far.
Selling off areas of the club and compromising future income to raise immediate funds for heavy transfer investment, Laporta opted for a get-success-quick strategy, with limited results.
Barcelona won the 2022/23 La Liga title for the first time since 2019, but they have still struggled in Europe.
This season everything fell to pieces, with Real Madrid storming to La Liga glory and Barcelona finishing the campaign trophyless.
“It’s fantastic news that Xavi is staying — the team we have, which is growing with many young talents, needs this stability,” said Laporta, weeks before performing a spectacular u-turn.
Xavi for his part did not mince his words about the challenges that faced Flick.
“You will suffer — this is a very complicated place to be,” Xavi warned his successor.
Barcelona’s ‘entorno’ — everything swirling around the club that increases pressure, from the media to the fans, to loose-lipped directors and former players chipping in — will stay the same.
However in hiring Flick, the club’s direction has changed.
The majority of their coaches have played for Barcelona — Xavi, Ronald Koeman, Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola among others.
Flick on the other hand, has never played or coached in Spain, let alone at the club itself.
The 59-year-old’s greatest success was leading Bayern Munich to a sextuple in 2020, including an 8-2 humiliation of Barcelona, but he struggled with the German national team, becoming their first coach ever to be sacked.
Barca’s sporting director Deco warned in February that Barcelona should move away from their traditional “tiki-taka” style.
“The president agrees with me on this, a deep change is needed — there is a method that is worn out,” he said.
Flick’s style is attacking but more direct than Barcelona usually attempt to play, with more crossing.
The coach will be happy to work with Ilkay Gundogan, whom he appointed Germany captain, and Robert Lewandowski, a key player in his triumphant Bayern Munich side.
He boasts coaching experience which Xavi lacked, having only worked at Al-Sadd in Qatar before taking the reins at Camp Nou.
Flick tends to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, rather than Barcelona’s 4-3-3, although they are not far removed.
The club’s financial difficulties will be a key factor in whether the German can improve Barcelona’s fortunes.
After pivot Sergio Busquets left, Barcelona failed to adequately replace him, unable to afford Xavi’s main target, Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi.
With new champions and rivals Real Madrid set to sign Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe, keeping up with Los Blancos will be a hard task for any coach.


Still plenty of fear for Real Madrid coach Ancelotti despite Champions League final successes

Still plenty of fear for Real Madrid coach Ancelotti despite Champions League final successes
Updated 29 May 2024
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Still plenty of fear for Real Madrid coach Ancelotti despite Champions League final successes

Still plenty of fear for Real Madrid coach Ancelotti despite Champions League final successes
  • Ancelotti: First there is the joy of being here, then the concerns will come and the fear will come
  • Madrid, who also won the Spanish league and the Spanish Super Cup, are trying to win their sixth European Cup in 10 seasons, matching a feat the club also achieved from 1955-65

MADRID: Carlo Ancelotti is going into his eighth Champions League final, having won all but one of them.

He is the most successful coach in the competition thanks to four titles. He also lifted two European trophies as a player.

There is no lack of experience for the veteran Italian manager. But there is still plenty of anxiety and fear for Ancelotti ahead of yet another big game.

“It’s the same as it was the first time,” the 64-year-old Ancelotti said as Real Madrid entered the final week of preparations ahead of Saturday’s final against Borussia Dortmund in London.

“First there is the joy of being here, then the concerns will come and the fear will come,” he said. “But before they come we have to enjoy this week and I’m going to enjoy it. The cold sweat will arrive Saturday afternoon, it’s normal, I’m already prepared for it. And this team gives me a lot of confidence, I see them focused on the match, they are in Champions (League) mode.”

Ancelotti won the Champions League with Madrid in 2022 and 2014, and with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007. He lost the 2005 edition with AC Milan in a final in a penalty shootout against Liverpool after squandering a 3-0 lead.

His European triumphs as a player came with Milan in 1989 and 1990. He was also in the squad with Roma when it reached the 1984 final but he sat out injured.

Ancelotti said he will stick to his routine before the final at Wembley Stadium.

“I’m a bit superstitious but it’s very normal. I was told that it’s bad luck not to be superstitious,” he said. “I like to eat broccoli, salmon and pasta, and that’s what I’ll eat. Then I’ll have an hour’s nap, if I’m able to. And then I’ll start thinking about the match. Before the talk with the players, my heart will start to rise to 110 or 120 beats. It’ll stay up there until the start of the game, and when it starts it will go back to its normal rhythm.”

Ancelotti said some of his most memorable Champions League highlights are linked to his time with Madrid, including the incredible run in 2022, when it had to rally several times to make it to the final. He also mentioned the late comeback in the semifinal against Bayern Munich a few weeks ago, when Joselu scored in the 88th minute and in stoppage time.

Ancelotti said this season was especially difficult because of the long list of injuries to some of the team’s key players, including serious knee problems to Thibaut Courtois, Eder Militão and David Alaba. Also missing time because of injuries were Vinicius Junior, Jude Bellingham, Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni.

“Attitude and commitment have been the key to overcoming all the problems we’ve had,” Ancelotti said. “That’s what allowed us to have a fantastic season.”

Madrid, who also won the Spanish league and the Spanish Super Cup, are trying to win their sixth European Cup in 10 seasons, matching a feat the club also achieved from 1955-65.

Ancelotti said he prides himself more about the way he has managed his locker rooms than his teams’ tactics over the years.

“Personal relationships are more important than professional relationships,” he said. “I’m not a psychologist but I’m experienced as I’ve worked for many years in locker rooms. I try to treat people with respect not only in tactical aspects but also in personal aspects. I’m in an environment with 50 people and I spend more time with them than with my wife and children. So if there are not good relationships and there is not a good atmosphere, then I’m not doing my job.”


FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final

FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final
Updated 28 May 2024
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FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final

FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final
  • There was also trouble at venues for the 2022 and 2023 Champions League finals, in Paris and Istanbul
  • The FA’s director of tournaments and events said: “We are doing all we can to ensure fans have a smooth arrival process and nice experience as they come to the stadium“

LONDON: England’s governing Football Association said Tuesday it had invested £5 million ($7 million) in improving safety and infrastructure at Wembley in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the violence that marred the climax of the Euro 2020 showpiece when the London ground stages this weekend’s Champions League final.
An independent review identified more than 20 “near-misses” that could have led to serious injury or death as a consequence of ticketless individuals trying to gain entry, and in some cases succeeding, for the England v Italy match in July 2021.
There was also trouble at venues for the 2022 and 2023 Champions League finals, in Paris and Istanbul.
Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and Spanish giants Real Madrid will meet in this season’s final at Wembley on Saturday, with officials promising they will have a “robust and comprehensive testing plan” in place for digital ticketing and safety checks.
Chris Bryant, the FA’s director of tournaments and events, said: “We are doing all we can to ensure fans have a smooth arrival process and nice experience as they come to the stadium.”
The FA, which has tested new methods at the League Cup and FA Cup finals, said fans would be able to enter Wembley four hours before Saturday’s kick-off, rather than two, with Transport for London running extra services to help manage the flow of fans to and from the ground.
Bryant accepted that, following the coronavirus pandemic, the supply of stewards was a major issue at the Euro 2020 final, insisting Saturday’s match would see “the highest ever stewarding deployment in Wembley Stadium history.”
“One thing in the Euros final was very much the supply of stewarding, which I can say was at a low point off the back of Covid,” he said. “We’re very confident the supply of stewarding which you’ve seen in the industry has bounced back.”
He added: “We’ve increased the strength of all the doors because at the Euros final people tried to rip the doors. Those doors are locked with a magnetic lock system and we’ve put a further lock system on every door around the stadium.
“We never foresaw events like that for the Euros final and I’m not sure we will again but we’ve learned lessons and additional measures have been implemented.”


Top Saudi clubs expanding into community-building programs

Top Saudi clubs expanding into community-building programs
Updated 29 May 2024
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Top Saudi clubs expanding into community-building programs

Top Saudi clubs expanding into community-building programs
  • Al-Hilal FC, Al-Nassr, Ittihad and Ahli are leading the push in corporate social responsibility

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development announced this month the launch of its first Corporate Social Responsibility Awards 2024, marking a new age of sustainable development and community involvement in the Kingdom.

The CSR initiative recognizes and inspires private-sector firms corresponding to Saudi Vision 2030’s social responsibility objectives. It promotes local initiatives to implement international standards, encourage competition, and set exemplary corporate practices.
Saudi Arabia’s sports clubs, traditionally focused on sports, entertainment, and culture, are now expanding to include community-building programs. The CSR Awards 2024 will focus on these efforts, recognizing initiatives that promote social development and local progress outside of sports.
Teams including Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Ittihad and Ahli are leading the push in CSR. They are making significant progress in youth development, health promotion, and environmental sustainability. From grassroots football programs for poor children to scholarships for promising young players from disadvantaged backgrounds, these efforts are consistent with Vision 2030’s emphasis on economic diversification and social transformation.
Furthermore, European and Asian examples demonstrate how sports clubs advocate sustainability programs with broad reach and impact. Forest Green Rovers of England is the world’s first UN-certified carbon-neutral football team. Their environmentally friendly methods, such as an organic pitch and solar-powered facilities, have spurred others to pursue greener strategies.

FC Bayern Munich in Germany exemplifies how clubs may incorporate sustainability into their operations, with efforts such as the Allianz Arena’s energy-efficient architecture and recycling programs setting a high bar for environmental care.
Japan’s Kashima Antlers have introduced innovative sustainability techniques, such as rainwater harvesting and LED lighting systems, to reduce their environmental imprint in Asia.

Also, China’s Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao FC has conducted large tree-planting projects to help with reforestation and ecological conservation.
The ministry hopes to develop a culture in which social impact is synonymous with financial success, resulting in a more socially responsible economic landscape in Saudi Arabia.
The award criteria include community engagement, environmental sustainability, and ethical governance, emphasizing the organizational benefit of CSR activities. Sports clubs, as role models for other businesses, have a unique power to promote social ideals and effect constructive change.
Furthermore, communication and social media are essential in promoting CSR efforts, raising awareness, and mobilizing support. Platforms such as X, Instagram, and Facebook let clubs promote their sustainability efforts, communicate with followers, and increase their impact, resulting in a more inclusive and sustainable future.
With good communication, CSR programs in sports teams can indirectly enhance profitability by improving brand recognition, increasing fan engagement, attracting sponsorship, and lowering costs through energy efficiency and regulatory compliance.

All while offering access to funds and grants, these additional financial resources can help the club’s operations and allow for more investment in CSR efforts, promoting long-term sustainability.
Embracing Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s sports clubs are helping to reshape the country and pave the road for a more socially responsible and sustainable society.

These clubs demonstrate sports’ transformative ability to generate positive social change through their persistent dedication to CSR activities. As they continue on this journey, they will inspire others and set new standards for CSR excellence, paving the way for future generations.


Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten
Updated 28 May 2024
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Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia: Cristiano Ronaldo finished the Saudi Pro League by setting the season goal-scoring record on Monday.
Ronaldo scored twice in Riyadh as Al-Nassr defeated Al-Ittihad 4-2 and lifted his league tally to 35, one more than the record in 2019 by Abderrazak Hamdallah.
In the final seconds of the first half, Ronaldo, who had already had two goals ruled out for offside, chested down a long pass from Mohammed Al-Fatil and opened the scoring with a low shot from the left side of the area.
With 21 minutes remaining, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner celebrated wildly after heading home a corner from Marcelo Brozovic. He was substituted off the field five minutes later to a standing ovation from the home fans.
It ended an action-packed season for Ronaldo, who scored four hat tricks and collected one red card. He was also suspended for an obscene gesture in February at Al-Shabab fans who had been chanting the name of Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s longstanding soccer rival.
Al-Nassr finished second in the league, 14 points behind local rival Al-Hilal, which won the championship more than two weeks ago and completed the 34-round league unbeaten on Monday.
Al-Hilal was too strong even without Neymar, who joined the club in August from Paris Saint-Germain but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in October.
Aleksandar Mitrovic stepped in and ended the season with a goal in the final seconds to clinch a 2-1 win over Al-Wehda. The Serbian striker, signed from London club Fulham last summer, reached 27 league goals, second only to Ronaldo.
On its way to the title, Al-Hilal went on a 34-game winning streak in all competitions, a new world record for a top tier team.
“This season has been truly exceptional for the team, arguably our best ever,” coach Jorge Jesus said. “The credit goes to the immense talent within the squad and the incredible sense of unity that transcends both on and off-field interactions.”
Al-Ittihad’s defeat at Al-Nassr ended a disappointing season for the defending champion. Karim Benzema, signed from Real Madrid, struggled with injuries and even with N’Golo Kante and Fabinho in midfield, signed from Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, the team from Jeddah could manage only fifth place.
Poor results cost Nuno Santo his job as coach in November, and the Portuguese tactician returned to the English Premier League a month later to take over Nottingham Forest.
Al-Ahli, the fourth of the ‘Big Four’ clubs taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund last June, finished third, 17 points behind Al-Nassr. Al-Ahli beat Al-Fayha 1-0 thanks to a late goal — his ninth of the season — from former Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino.
Ronaldo took the headlines, however, and the 39-year-old still had one more chance to end the season with a trophy when Al-Nassr meets Al-Hilal in the King’s Cup final on Friday.