THE TICKER: FIFA chief Infantino says football can help Africans; Beijing ‘22 may delay Russian invasion; FINA 2022 Worlds pushed to 2023

FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI) addressing the Council of Europe (Photo: FIFA)

The latest news, notes and quotes from the worldwide Five-Ring Circus:

(For Tuesday’s preview of possible U.S. medal chances at Beijing 2022, click here. Special thanks to reader Bruce MacNeil for catching our miss of Bryce Bennett’s win in a December Alpine World Cup Downhill. Thanks!)


FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI) took his campaign for football as a global entity for good to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg (FRA), delivering remarks that positioned the sport as a way to help lift the world away from desperate refugeeism.


His address of more than 30 minutes included FIFA’s outreach to poor countries, but also closed with some stunning comments about the future of football:

“What this topic is about is not about whether we want the World Cup every two years. It’s about what do we want to do for the future of football. The Super League was mentioned earlier by Lord [George] Foulkes [SCO]. We see that football is going into a direction where a few have everything and the vast majority have nothing.

“I understand, in Europe, the World Cup takes place twice per week because the best players are playing in Europe. So in Europe, there is no need for additional possibilities and events. But if we think about the rest of the world, and also if we think about Europe, the vast majority of Europe who doesn’t see the best players, who doesn’t participate in the top competitions, then we have to think about what football brings, which goes beyond the sport.

“Because football is about what I was saying at the very beginning, about opportunities, about hope, about national teams, about the country, about the heart, about the joy, about the emotion. And we cannot say to the rest of the world, ‘give us your money if you happen to have a good player by coincidence, give us the player as well, but watch us on TV.’ We need to include them, we need to find ways to include the entire world, to give hope to Africans so they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find, maybe, a better life but more probably death in the sea.

“We need to give opportunities and we need to give dignity, not by giving charity but by allowing the rest of the world as well to participate.

“Now, maybe, the World Cup every two years is not the answer. We discuss it. We debate it. We started the process with a vote of 88%, and this Council of Europe is also about democracy. 88% of the FIFA Congress, including 30 European members out of 55 to debate, to discuss and to see what the best way is to be more inclusive … by bringing everyone on board and by trying to give opportunities, hope and dignity to the entire world. …

“We will see at the end of this debate – not today, but in a few months time – what the result is.”

His comment about “death in the sea” was a reference to the multiple instances of deaths and injuries suffered by migrants trying to cross from North Africa to Europe by boat. On Wednesday, 18 people in boats trying to cross from North Africa to the Canary Islands of Spain, with 319 migrants rescued by Spanish authorities.

This part of his address was met with considerable criticism, and Infantino issued a further statement, including

“If there are more opportunities available, including in Africa, but certainly not limited to that continent, this should allow people to take these opportunities in their own countries. This was a general comment, which was not directly related to the possibility of playing a FIFA World Cup every two years.”


● XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● “I think that probably President Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine.”

That was U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, speaking on Wednesday about the potential timing of a Russian incursion into Ukraine with its ally China hosting the Winter Games from 4-20 February.

Said Sherman, “I have no idea whether [Russian President Vladimir Putin] made the ultimate decision, but we certainly see every indication that he is going to use military force sometime perhaps [between] now and the middle of February.”

Worth remembering: Putin’s invasion of the Crimea region in 2014 began just after the end of the Sochi Winter Games, which closed on 23 February. Russia troops moved into the Crimea beginning on 27 February.

Also on Wednesday, Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov told an online conference, “Russia has always supported the Beijing Winter Olympics and opposed any form of politicizing sports.”

From the start of the “closed-loop management system” beginning on 4 January, the Beijing 2022 organizers have confirmed 106 total positives, but only two among athletes and team officials.

Statistics released for 4-25 January showed that most of the cases were registered at the Beijing Airport, with 64 of the total cases (60%) and 42 from the daily screening tests inside the closed loop (and only one team official, apparently from Germany).

The positivity rate at the airport was 64/3,695 or 1.7%; within the closed loop, it was only 0.01% of 458,960 tests.

Only 1,001 athletes and team officials have arrived so far; about 3,000 athletes are expected for the Games.

The newest plague to hit the Beijing Games: smog. Youbin Liu, China’s environment ministry spokesman told reporters Monday that “The Beijing Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games coincide with the end of winter and the start of spring in northern China, when weather conditions are extremely unfavourable.

“When heavy pollution is predicted, all localities will launch emergency plans.”

Most of the Beijing-area venues are indoor sites, but the National Stadium – the “Bird’s Nest” – for the opening, and the Big Air Shougang facility for Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard are outdoor sites. Of course, the Olympic Village is also set in a park-style setting, with large outdoor areas.

The Cyberspace Administration of China announced a month-long online “purification” campaign Tuesday, designed to provide a “healthy, happy, and peaceful online environment.”

CNN Business reported that the plan will focus on “homepages of key media sites, trending topic search lists, push pop-up windows, and important news content pages [which] must be carefully managed to present ‘positive information.’”

China’s online environment is heavily policed and news media attending the Games have expressed concern over access for reporting and transmission purposes, but have been assured that their traffic will be unrestricted.

Reports indicate two star athletes are now not expected to compete at Beijing.

Russian figure skating star Mikhail Kolyada tested positive for Covid and will miss the Games, to be replaced by Evgeni Semenenko. Kolyada was the most experienced of the Russian men’s entries and a Worlds bronze medalist in 2018. Although not a favorite for a medal, his absence could hurt Russia’s chances for a gold in the Team event.

Czech distance speed skating star Eva Samkova has not recovered from broken ankles from a fall in December and will not compete in Beijing. She was a medal contender once again in the SnowCross event, in which she won the Olympic gold in 2014, the bronze in 2018 and was the 2019 World Champion. reported that NBC has lowered its ratings projections for Beijing 2022 “in half, depending on time of day and platform.”

NBC has complained that the ratings measurements delivered by Nielsen are incomplete and has hired competing measurement company to evaluate its viewership not only on television, but online and out-of-home as well.

NBC’s ratings for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games averaged 19.8 million viewers daily for its primetime program.

U.S.-based Discovery owns the European broadcast rights for Beijing 2022 through its Eurosport division and promised full coverage – including human rights issues – for its pan-European coverage of the Games.

“It is not a topic that we are going to shy away from, we are going to address it,” said Discovery sports head Andrew Georgiou (AUS). The company’s plan includes broadcast and streaming to 50 countries and territories in 19 languages and 1,200 live hours produced for viewers across Discovery’s linear and digital platforms.

● Games of the XXXIII Olympiad: Paris 2024 ● Conventional wisdom within the Olympic Movement holds that the plan contained in a bid for the Olympic Games is only the starting point.

Paris 2024 is reported to be considering moving the shooting venue, expected to be at a temporary venue the Seine-Sainte-Denis area, to another location due to possible environmental and wildlife issues with the proposed renovation of the Le Courneuve site.

The site noted that the Seine-Sainte-Denis area has already had badminton, swimming and volleyball competitions moved away from the area in a previous venue reorganization.

● XXVI Olympic Winter Games: 2030 ● A referendum in Catalonia on a bid for the 2030 Winter Games is promised to be held in the late spring or early summer, polling 77 communities involved in a potential Games in Barcelona and the Pyrenees Mountains area.

The Spanish bid for 2030 has been hampered by political infighting and the referendum is designed to end the squabbling. However, with bids ready to go for both Sapporo (JPN) and Salt Lake City in the U.S., it could be too late to be considered seriously.

● Athletics ● In an announcement which surprised absolutely no one, Eugene’s Hayward Field will be the site for the 2022 USATF National Championships that will select the American team for the World Athletics Championships, to be held at the same site.

The announced dates are 23-26 June, with the U.S. Junior (U-20) Championships to be included in the program.

● Football ● Tragedy in Yaounde, Cameroon as eight fans were killed and 38 injured in a “crush of fans” for Monday’s Cameroon-Comoros game at the African Cup of Nations ongoing on Cameroon.

The Olembe Stadium has a 60,000-seat capacity, but was scheduled to hold 48,000 due to Covid restrictions. About 50,000 showed up for the game and insufficient security and crowd control led to a stampede.

Agence France Presse reported that “Following a low turnout in the first round games at brand new stadiums built for AFCON, Cameroon authorities have thrown open stadium gates, organised mass transport and given out free tickets to lure fans.”

Despite the injuries, the game was played, with Cameroon winning, 2-1. The Cameroon organizers were also plagued by about 40 fans storming onto the field during an earlier game between Ivory Coast and Algeria during the tournament.

The 2022 tournament continues to 6 February.

● Gymnastics ● The USA Gymnastics proceeding before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana is continuing, with a hearing today and a request for the appointed trustee to begin the claims process.

The agreed-to settlement expected to total about $380 million has not yet been declared effective, but is expected to get final approval soon.

A report of operations through December 2021 showed that the case has generated legal fees of $18,456,633, of which 59% has been paid to date by the insurers.

● Swimming ● Although not officially announced by FINA, the Russian news agency TASS reported that Russian Swimming Federation President Vladimir Salnikov confirmed that the 2022 World Aquatics Championships will not be held in May in Fukuoka, Japan:

“The FINA Bureau met Friday [21st] and voted to postpone the World Championships to 2023 due to the pandemic and other issues related to organizing the arrival and accommodation of participants in the coronavirus environment. No alternative options for the World Championships were presented.”

A 2023 date would inevitably move the 2023 Worlds, already scheduled for October in Doha (QAT) to be re-scheduled as well, possibly into early 2024.

But nothing has been officially announced as yet.

● Tennis ● Just in case you missed it, Australian Open officials reversed themselves on Monday and will allow the wearing of shirts with “Where is Peng Shuai?” messages.

Peng’s safety has been a significant concern in the world tennis community that expanded to worldwide interest late last year after his online accusation of sexual harassment by a former Chinese Vice Premier. She later retracted the allegation, but her situation continues to receive wide attention.

Australian Open officials had originally asked fans not to wear the slogan on shirts, holding it to be in violation of the tournament’s policy against political statements. But the stance provoked a public backlash and led to the policy change.


● Alpine Skiing ● Tuesday saw events for both men and women, with the men finished their pre-Olympic schedule in Schladming (AUT) with a Slalom.

Germany’s Linus Strasser was the surprise winner, getting his third career World Cup gold and second medal of this season. He ranked only fifth and sixth on the two runs, but his consistency got him the victory over Atle Lie McGrath (NOR), 1:46.00-1:46.03.

Austria’s Manuel Feller was third (1:46.39) for his fifth medal of the season.

The women were in Kronplatz (ITA) for a Slalom, with Swede Sara Hector getting her third win of the season, beating reigning World Cup overall champ Petra Vlhova (SVK), 2:03.63-2:03.78. France’s Tessa Worley was third (2:04.15) and American Mikaela Shiffrin finished fifth (2:04.44) after a poor second run.

The women have one more stop before Beijing, with a Downhill and Super-G scheduled for this weekend in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GER).

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