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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. Griner swapped for Russian arms merchant; returns to U.S.
2. Int’l Boxing Association: “We will not accept” IOC criticism
3. Qatar received almost 766,000 FIFA World Cup visitors so far
4. Cat thrown out of Brazil World Cup news conference by its fur!
5. Coe: building the track & field fan base “is more challenging”
American basketball star Brittney Griner was swapped for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on Thursday, in an agreement assisted by the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with Griner flown to Abu Dhabi for transfer to the U.S. The International Boxing Association lashed out at the International Olympic Committee for Wednesday’s comments chastising the federation, but saying that it had no problem with boxing or boxers. A document from Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 FIFA World Cup says that almost 766,000 foreign visitors have come to the country – so far – for the event, well short of the 1.2 million it had said it expected, but pretty impressive for a country of 2.9 million. At a Wednesday Brazilian team news conference in Doha with striker Vinicius Junior, a cat jumped onto the dais, but was quickly removed and dropped about three feet to the stage below by the Brazilian team’s press officer, apparently with no damage to the cat. World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe gave a very interesting interview in Monaco at the World Athletics Awards, explaining the federation’s goals for 2023 and its effort to raise the sport’s profile.
The FIFA World Cup resumes on Friday and Saturday with the quarterfinals.
Griner swapped for Russian arms merchant; returns to U.S.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner of the U.S. was released from Russian captivity on Thursday in exchange for the U.S. release of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been serving a 25-year sentence that began in 2012.
Griner was detained on 17 February for “drug smuggling” of cannabis oil, which she admitted she errantly packed in her luggage. She was convicted in August and her appeal was denied in October. She was transferred to a penal colony in November.
A statement from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert included:
“There has not been a day over the past ten months where we all haven’t had Brittney Griner on our minds and in our hearts and that has now turned into a collective wave of joy and relief knowing that she will soon be reunited with her family, the WNBA player community, and her friends. …
“Our hope is that Paul Whelan and every wrongfully detained American will be returned home safely and as soon as possible.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry, of course, was more concerned about the release of Bout, telling the news agency TASS:
“As a result of the efforts made, we managed to agree with the American side to arrange an exchange of Viktor Bout for Brittney Griner. The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland.
“[The exchange] was successfully completed at the airport of Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Washington was categorically refusing to engage in dialogue on putting the Russian national on the exchange scheme. Nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work towards the release of our fellow countryman.”
A joint statement of the foreign ministries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took the credit for the deal, including:
“The ministries said the success of the mediation efforts was a reflection of the mutual and solid friendship between their two countries and the United States of America and the Russian Federation.
“They also highlighted the important role played by the leaderships of the two brotherly countries in promoting dialogue between all parties.
“The statement confirmed that Abu Dhabi received, on 8th December, American citizen Brittney Griner by private plane from Moscow, after the Russian authorities released her, in conjunction with the reception of Russian citizen Victor Bout on a private plane from Washington, after the U.S. authorities released him, in the presence of specialists from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“Both America and Russia claimed their citizens, in preparation for transfer to their countries.
“The UAE and Saudi Arabian foreign ministries expressed the thanks of their respective governments to the governments of the U.S. and Russia for their cooperation and response, and for the joint mediation efforts made by the leaderships of the two countries.”
Griner was reportedly being flown to San Antonio for medical attention and support services for individuals who have been in foreign isolation.
TASS also reported that both Griner and Bout “were pardoned prior to the exchange procedure, and therefore there is no need for them to serve their sentences in their home countries.”
Whelan, convicted of espionage, is still being held in a Russian penal colony, and is also considered by the U.S. to be wrongfully detailed since 2018. A TASS report noted that “Negotiations about his exchange are ongoing.”
Int’l Boxing Association: “We will not accept” IOC criticism
A day after International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) criticized the International Boxing Association, but explicitly said he is not criticizing boxing or boxers, the IBA posted an unhappy, three-page reply, that included:
● “We continue to be punished for a culture of corruption that was created and nourished by some of the individuals from the IOC’s upper echelon,” referring to former AIBA President C.K. Wu (TPE), who was also an IOC member.
● “We will not accept this artificial divide and conquer rhetoric that somehow the IBA and the athletes are separate, it is simply not true and any attack on the IBA is a direct attack on the stakeholders of our sport, the athletes. Sanctions towards IBA are sanctions against its boxers, as we are inseparable.”
● “The IOC creates a problem for each solution we provide.”
● “Denying the fact of IBA’s significant progress is simply an egregious error in not acknowledging the truth of the matter. IBA is not creating a PR picture that does not exist; in fact, we are simply communicating our progress and steps towards it. Not acknowledging it, raises the fair question of why. All the IOC criticism is done in a manner to discredit the leading experts who have worked on the previous reports and investigations within the Olympic movement, which is deplorable.”
● “We are now forced to publicly ask for details on what governance shortfalls will quench the IOC’s continued thirst to persecute our organization and its athletes.”
● “[T]he Olympic Charter doesn’t read that person’s nationality should stop them from being able to democratically serve their organization,” a reference to the election of Russian Umar Kremlev as IBA President.
● “These are IBA’s facts. IBA is looking forward to receiving the facts from the IOC in terms of what has not been achieved by IBA in order to avoid any ambiguity in the IOC’s PR.”
It’s a bold statement, but does not address the IOC’s oft-repeated issues concerning the way in which the IBA held its elections, transparency in its finances and its dependence on debt relief from a sole source – the Russian energy giant Gazprom, – plus its future financial stability without Gazprom and aspects of its refereeing and judging which have still not satisfied the IOC.
The question of whether boxing (and modern pentathlon and weightlifting) will be included in the Los Angeles 2028 sports program are to be decided in 2023.
Qatar received almost 766,000 FIFA World Cup visitors so far
Reuters reported that 765,859 international visitors had come into Qatar for World Cup matches through 7 December, according a report from the organizing Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
The report noted that more than half of these visitors have departed already, as all but eight of the original 32 teams have been eliminated. The total is impressive, especially for a country with a population of just 2.9 million, but well short of the estimate of 1.2 million visitors. Some more visitors are expected to come in for the final few games.
According to the report, some 3.09 million tickets were sold through the 7th, used by 1.33 million ticketholders. Actual stadium attendance was 2.65 million through the first 52 matches.
FIFA has handed down fines for three incidents at the World Cup, with the Croatian Football Federation fined CHF 50,000 (CHF 1 = $1.07) for the “use of words and objects to transmit a message that is not appropriate for a sports event … in relation to the behaviour of Croatian supporters during the Croatia v. Canada FIFA World Cup match on 27 November.”
The Football Association of Serbia was fined CHF 20,000 “in relation to a flag displayed in its dressing room on the occasion of the Brazil v. Serbia FIFA World Cup match on 24 November” in which Kosovo – now an independent country – was shown as part of Serbia, with the words “we do not surrender.”
Bad behavior on the field was also penalized, with the Saudi Arabian Football Association fined CHF 15,000 each (CHF 30,000 total) for rough play, notably “a total of six [yellow card] bookings received by Saudi players … during the FIFA World Cup matches against Argentina and Mexico on 22 November and 30 November.”
The story of Qatar’s Stadium 974, created in part from 974 shipping containers, is moving into another chapter after hosting six matches at the Arab Cup and seven at the World Cup. Opened on 20 November 2021 and closed after Monday’s Brazil-South Korea game on 5 December, the 44,409-seat facility is being disassembled and readied for shipment to Uruguay!
The concept is for the stadium to be reassembled in Uruguay and used – hopefully – as a venue for the 2030 FIFA World Cup, which Uruguay is bidding for in conjunction with Argentina, Chile and Paraguay. Uruguay was the site of the first World Cup, back in 1930.
A Philippine worker died in Qatar in recent days near a World Cup training site, but was apparently not involved in any World Cup activities. The Qatar government is looking into the incident for any work-safety violations; protests over migrant worker pay, conditions and safety have dogged the tournament since it was awarded to Qatar in 2010.
Spain’s loss to Morocco on penalty kicks in the Round of 16 cost manager Luis Enrique, 52, his position, as the Spanish national football federation fired him on Thursday. Luis de la Fuente, 61, the head of Spain’s U-21 program was named as the new coach.
Cat thrown out of Brazil World Cup news conference by its fur!
In one of the most unusual FIFA World Cups in history, one of the most unbelievable moments in the history of news conferences.
A Brazilian team news conference with striker Vinicius Junior on Wednesday was interrupted by a stray cat which jumped onto the table and was corralled by Brazilian team press officer Vinicius Rodriguez.
After a few moments, however, Rodriguez picked up the cat by its back fur and dropped it to the stage apron below – about three feet – stunning the assembled media, as well as Vinicius Junior. The scene was picked up on the live broadcast from Brazil’s SportTV – here – and the news conference continued.
The Russian Free Press reported, “The cat landed on its paws and appeared to be unharmed” and Rodriguez told TASS, “The cat is fine, don’t worry. He feels great.”
Some of the media who attended Thursday’s Brazil news conference welcomes Rodriguez by meowing, perhaps another FIFA World Cup first.
It should be noted that the cat was not wearing any kind of accreditation badge or other World Cup credential that would admit him to the news conference.
Coe: building the track & field fan base “is more challenging”
Fascinating interview with World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe (GBR) from the International Sports Journalists Association (AIPS), on the sidelines of the federation’s World Athletics Awards. Coe spoke at length about 2022 and the future of the sport; some highlights:
● “Building that fan base in track and field is more challenging, because it isn’t a game. And you don’t always have such big, tribal, national rivalries. … Yes, everybody gets behind their country, but track and field fans are more in a way… they’re more “Catholic” about life. … they’re very much more into the sheer quality of what they’re watching, regardless in a way of what the flag is on the sign.”
● “We’re looking at formats, we’re looking at the competition calendar, the diary, we’re looking at the ability to work with the athletes so that they can help build their own profile, wanting us to give them content that they’re able to post. So it works both ways. And that’s a lot of those conversations, interestingly, have been taking place here with the athletes.”
● “[W]e have a responsibility to protect female sport, but to do it in a sensible, thoughtful and inclusive way. So the position that we took with [differences in sex development], for instance, wasn’t to stop anyone. The first principle was not to stop people competing. It was to try and make sure that if they were competing, it was on as level playing fields as you can possibly manage. We are currently reviewing that position. The Health and Science Teams will report back after a period of consultation and the importance of following the science.”
He also spoke at some length about the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene:
“We had a challenge around visas, getting in and out of America in the best of times is not an easy process for many of us. Eugene is a very small town. It’s inevitable that, in performance terms, they were the most successful championships we have ever had. If you look at the world records and the area records, national records, personal bests, some of those – Sydney McLaughlin’s world record and Mondo Duplantis, Noah Lyles – these were extraordinary performances.
“But I think that there’s no doubt that it is unlikely we will ever go back to a smaller community. For a World Championships, the stadium was beautiful, purpose-built for the championships – but it was small. It made life complicated for the media, it made life complicated in terms of the number of seats that were available, that weren’t just accredited seats. What did we get out of Eugene? We had a presence in the United States and every Olympic sport wants its presence at a World Championships in the United States.”
≡ FIFA WORLD CUP ≡
The World Cup resumes on Friday and Saturday with the quarterfinals (records reflect penalty-kick victories as wins):
● 09 Dec.: Croatia (2-0-2 W-L-T: goals 5-2) vs. Brazil (3-1: goals 7-2)
● 09 Dec.: Netherlands (3-0-1; goals 8-2) vs. Argentina (3-1; goals 7-3)
● 10 Dec.: Morocco (3-0-1; goals 4-1) vs. Portugal (3-1; goals 12-5)
● 10 Dec.: England (3-0-1; goals 12-2) vs. France (3-1; goals 9-4)
The semifinals will be played on the 13th and 14th and the final on 18 December
With the Round of 16 completed, let’s update the region vs. region records in Qatar (records shown W-L-T, with penalty-kick advancements counted as wins):
● 5 teams qualified ~ 2 to Round of 16 ~ 1 to Quarterfinals
● 7-5-3 record in group stage ~ 19-17 on goals ~ 152-167 on shots
● 1-1-0 record in Round of 16 ~ 0-3 on goals ~ 16-21 on shots
● 6 teams qualified ~ 3 to Round of 16 ~ 0 to Quarterfinals
● 7-10-1 record in group stage ~ 19-30 on goals ~ 176-239 on shots
● 0-3-0 record in Round of 16 ~ 3-7 on goals ~ 26-49 on shots
(Statistics vs. non-European teams)
● 13 teams qualified ~ 10 to Round of 16 ~ 5 to Quarterfinals
● 12-10-7 record in group stage ~ 46-30 on goals ~ 335-323 on shots
● 3-1-0 record in Round of 16 ~ 7-2 on goals ~ 49-46 on shots
● 4 teams qualified ~ 1 to Round of 16 ~ 0 to Quarterfinals
● 3-6-3 record in group stage ~ 9-22 on goals ~ 115-130 on shots
● 0-1-0 record in Round of 16 ~ 1-3 on goals ~ 17-11 on shots
● 4 teams qualified ~ 2 to Round of 16 ~ 2 to Quarterfinals
● 6-4-2 record in group stage ~ 14-8 on goals ~ 163-82 on shots
● 2-0-0 record in Round of 16 ~ 6-2 on goals ~ 32-13 on shots
Asia and CONCACAF had no teams in the final eight and the surprise of the tournament has been Africa, which not only has Morocco in the quarters, but finished with a winning record in the Group Stage, along with Europe and South America.
CONCACAF came into the tournament with teams ranked 13th (Mexico), 16th (U.S.), 31st (Costa Rica) and 41st (Canada), but none made it to the quarters. The African teams were ranked 18th (Senegal), 22nd (Morocco), 30th (Tunisia) 43rd (Cameroon) and 61st (Ghana), but advanced three to the elimination rounds and Morocco to the quarters.
≡ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS ≡
● Weightlifting ● The IWF World Championships roll on in Bogota (COL), with two Olympic champions winning their weight classes on Wednesday.
In the men’s 61 kg class, China’s Fabin Li won his second world title to go along with his Tokyo Olympic triumph, lifting a combined 312 kg, including a world-record Clean & Jerk lift of 175 kg. That was well clear of two-time Olympic silver winner Eko Yuli Irawan (INA: 300 kg) and China’s Yueji He (296 kg). American Hampton Morris was 15th at 275 kg.
Philippine star Hildyn Diaz followed up on her Tokyo Olympic triumph at 61 kg with a world title in Bogota, lifting a combined total of 207 kg, winning both the Snatch and Clean & Jerk segments. It’s her fourth Worlds medal, but first gold! Colombia’s Rosalba Morales won the silver (199 kg) and Mexico’s Ana Gabriela Lopez was third (198 kg). American Shayla Moore finished fourth at 194 kg.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Olympic Games 2024: Paris ● The IOC is working diligently to extend the “umbrella” of the Olympic Games to the qualifying events, with a special logo and added, online telecasts of competitions not otherwise being covered.
IOC chief Bach mentioned during Wednesday’s news conference that about 100,000 athletes will compete in roughly 3,000 qualifying events for 10,500 slots at the Games, or about a 10:1 ratio.
● Archery ● Pretty rare to be a national federation to be expelled from an international federation, but World Archery announced:
“The Federacion Mexicana de Tiro con Arco is no longer recognised as World Archery’s national member association in Mexico following an official notice issued to the country’s sports minister Ana Gabriela Guevara and CONADE.
“It is in response to the outcome of a judicial case against the former president of the federation, Efi Sanchez, who has been jailed for misuse of public funds.”
World Archery is requiring “establishment of a brand-new organisation that fully complies with the principles of good governance.” Mexico has been highly successful in archery, winning two women’s Olympic medals in 2012 and a Mixed Team bronze in 2020.
● Athletics ● Rio 2016 Olympic 4×400 m relay gold medalist Gil Roberts, 33, was suspended for 16 months by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for the presence of anabolic agents andarine and ostarine from a May 2022 out-of-competition test, and another warning about supplements:
“Following an investigation into the circumstances of his case, USADA determined that Roberts’s positive test was caused by his use of a dietary supplement that did not list any prohibited ingredients on the label.” Roberts’ ban began on 3 June 2022.
Roberts has a lifetime best of 44.22 from 2017, but ran very little in 2020 and was eliminated in the heats at the 2021 Olympic Trials in the 400 m.
Olympic writer Karen Rosen notes that the first day of the 2023 Wanda Diamond League Final at Hayward Field in Eugene will fall on the same day – Saturday, 16 September – as a University of Oregon football game being played at nearby Autzen Stadium against Hawaii.
It will raise the question of whether Eugene’s track fans are also Ducks football followers, but in any case, parking could be at a premium!
● Sport Climbing ● Bach was asked about whether the IOC had maintained contact with the situation of Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi, whose loose wearing of her headscarf at the Asian Championships in Korea in October exposed her to possible criminal penalties under Iranian law. A recent report stated her family’s home had been torn down; Bach explained:
“In fact, the international federation has been in constant contact with her over all the time [since the Asian Championships], and this contact was also used with regard to this most recent allegation, where, then, we have checked with the international federation [IFSC] and with the Iranian NOC, and we have received from both the same information, so far, that it appears that this is about a construction permit there, and that this incident took place some months before the competition in Seoul, this means some months before October.
“This is the information we have and we continue to monitor the situation. Again, via the international federation, who are very close to the athlete and we are using our channel to the Iranian NOC.”
The IFSC announced on Wednesday (7th) that Rekabi was one of four athletes selected for the “Women in Sport High Performance Pathway” (WISH), designed to expand the number of female coaches at the Olympic Games, and supported by the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity program.
● Tennis ● Per Britain’s Daily Mail:
“The [British] Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has been threatened with expulsion from the ATP Tour and fined $1million (£822,000) by the men’s circuit for their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players earlier this year.”
The Women’s Tennis Association has also sanctioned the LTA, which has appealed. For its part, the LTA said in a statement:
“The ATP appear to regard this matter as a straightforward breach of their rules – with a surprising lack of empathy shown for the situation in Ukraine, and a clear lack of understanding of the unique circumstances the LTA faced.
“The financial impact of both this fine and the WTA’s fine will have a material impact on the LTA’s ability to develop and host tennis in this country. For example, we had intended to host a number of ATP Challenger level events to give more opportunities to lower ranked players in the first quarter of 2023 and will now not be able to do this, particularly given the possibility of further fines.
“We will carefully consider our response and we await the outcome of our appeal against the WTA’s decision and sanction.”
It has been reported that the Lawn Tennis Association plans to ban Russian and Belarusian players in 2023 if Russian forces remain in Ukraine.
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