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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. Long-anticipated FIFA World Cup in Qatar opens on Sunday
2. FIFA and FIFPRO to activate “social media protection service” at World Cup
3. AB InBev unveils massive influencer campaign for Qatar 2022
4. Griner moved to penal colony southeast of Moscow
5. NCAA to examine allowing summer basketball games
The much-discussed 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar starts on Sunday with Qatar playing Ecuador and will run to 18 December, with Brazil – as usual – the favorite. Will Europe dominate like it did in 2018? With the tournament in November and December, how will U.S. television viewership fare against college football and the NFL? FIFA and FIFPRO, the professional players association, announced an intriguing “social media protection service” offered to all players at the World Cup, to moderate nasty social-media messaging on multiple platforms. While the Qatar organizers have created a controversial “Fan Leader” program to ensure social-media support, Budweiser unveiled an extensive influencer program of its own, from multiple countries, to promote its association with the event. American basketball star Brittney Griner was moved to a penal colony just more than 300 miles southeast of Moscow to serve her “drug smuggling” sentence, according to her Russian lawyers. The NCAA Division I Council has created two working groups to explore the possibilities for a modest summer season for men’s and women’s college basketball teams, a development which could, eventually, have a substantial impact on the World University Games.
Long-anticipated FIFA World Cup in Qatar opens on Sunday
After all the construction, qualifying matches and protests, it’s here. The 2022 FIFA World Cup will open on Sunday in Qatar with the host country facing Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor at 11 a.m. Eastern time.
Almost all of the three million tickets have been sold and the tournament will go through a busy group stage to narrow 32 teams down to 16 by 2 December, with the playoffs beginning on 3 December and the final on 18 December.
While the discussions and protests continue, some football will actually be played, with familiar favorites at the top of the predictions. Current odds on the eventual winner, with their FIFA world rankings:
● 4-1: Brazil (1)
● 11-2: Argentina (3)
● 15-2: France (4; defending champion)
● 9-1: Spain (7)
● 19-2: England (5)
● 12-1: Germany (11)
● 14-1: Netherlands (8)
● 17-1: Portugal (9) /8/
● 19-1: Belgium (2)
● 33-1: Denmark (10)
● 51-1: Uruguay (14)
● 66-1: Croatia (12)
● 125-1: Serbia (21)
● 130-1: Switzerland (15)
● 175-1: Senegal (18)
● 209-1: Mexico (13) /16/
● 239-1: United States (16)
● 250-1: Poland (26)
● 275-1: Ecuador (44)
● 300-1: Morocco (22) and Wales (19)
● 425-1: Japan (24)
● 500-1: Ghana (61) and Canada (41)
● 550-1: Cameroon (43), South Korea (28), Iran (20)
● 750-1: Qatar (50) and Australia (38)
● 900-1: Saudi Arabia (51) and Tunisia (30)
● 1,000-1: Costa Rica (31)
A World Cup simulation from Nielsen had Brazil defeating Argentina in one semifinal and Belgium defeating France in the other, with the Brazilians winning the final. But, who really knows?
One element to watch is the continental balance. The most recent World Cups have been dominated by Europe, especially in 2018, where six of the eight quarterfinal teams were from Europe, plus Brazil. The recent history of advancement to the playoffs and quarterfinals:
Round of 16:
● 2002: 9 Europe, 2 South America-CONCACAF-Asia, 1 Africa
● 2006: 10 Europe, 3 South America, 1 CONCACAF-Asia-Oceania
● 2010: 6 Europe, 5 South America, 2 CONCACAF, 2 Asia, 1 Africa
● 2014: 6 Europe, 5 South America, 3 CONCACAF, 2 Africa
● 2018: 10 Europe, 4 South America, 1 Asia, 1 CONCACAF
● 2002: 4 Europe, 1 South America-CONCACAF-Asia-Africa
● 2006: 6 Europe, 2 South America
● 2010: 4 South America, 3 Europe, 1 Africa
● 2014: 4 Europe, 3 South America, 1 CONCACAF
● 2018: 6 Europe, 2 South America
In the World Cups played in Europe in this century (2006 and 2018), European teams have taken 62.5% of the Round of 16 places and 75% of the quarterfinal spots. But for 2002 (Japan-Korea), 2010 (South Africa) and 2014 (Brazil), the European share was “only” 43.8% in the round of 16 and 50% in the quarterfinals.
In terms of participation in 2022, Europe (UEFA) has 13 of the 32 teams (40.6%), Asia has six (18.8%), Africa has five (15.6%) and CONCACAF and South America have four each (12.5%).
In the U.S., FOX Sports has exclusive English-language rights (with the games on FOX and FS1) and Comcast’s Telemundo has the Spanish-language rights.
(TheSportsExaminer.com will be closely following the performance of the continents against each other, as well as the U.S. television ratings of World Cup matches, especially in head-to-head timeframes against college football and the NFL.)
FIFA and FIFPRO to activate “social media protection service”
at World Cup
Fans of Association Football – as soccer is formally known – unfailingly speak about the passion that the game generates, from players and fans. That can lead to some nasty comments on social-media platforms and so FIFA and FIFPRO (the professional players association) announced a “social media protection service” for players who want to use it at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The service is described as:
● “Through SMPS, all players from all 32 participating member associations at the FIFA World Cup will have access to a dedicated monitoring, reporting and moderation service designed to minimise visibility of hate speech aimed at them on social media and, therefore, protecting both players and their fans from online abuse during the tournament.”
● “FIFA is monitoring the social media accounts of all participants at the FIFA World Cup by scanning for public-facing abusive, discriminatory and threatening comments and then reporting them to social networks and law authorities for real-world action against those who break rules.
“Teams, players and other individual participants will also be able to opt-in to a moderation service that will instantly hide abusive and offensive comments on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, preventing them from being seen by the recipient and their followers.”
It’s worth noting that Twitter is not included on the moderation service.
This is a potentially critical service and, if considered widely successful, could herald adoption in other sports, to guard against abusive comments on popular platforms.
AB InBev unveils massive influencer campaign for Qatar 2022
Much has been made of the “Fan Leader” campaign launched by the Qatar 2022 organizing committee, to bring a small number of fans from each participating team to the World Cup in exchange for their support on social media.
But the hosts are not the only ones on the influencer bandwagon, as AB InBev’s Budweiser brand – a long-time World Cup sponsor – will have its own team of about 100 influencers, from multiple countries at the event. MarketingDive.com reported:
“This year the brand has opted for an influencer-heavy activation that will put participating influencers in a music video for ‘The World is Yours To Take’ by Lil Baby as well as having them participate in events at the Budweiser Hotel.”
Budweiser said many of its influencer team is from the music field, such as “Tarryn and Clairise (TxC), a South African DJ duo with more than 100,000 Instagram followers.”
The influencer project expands the beer giant’s heavy promotional push of its World Cup association, already having done contests such as a scavenger hunt (using QR codes for items found), commemorative cans with a QR code as an entry for raffle prizes and a video spot with stars Lionel Messi (ARG), Neymar Jr. (BRA) and Raheem Sterling (ENG) that played in 70 countries.
Griner moved to penal colony southeast of Moscow
Reports indicate that two-time Olympic gold medal winner Brittney Griner of the U.S. has been moved to a Russian penal colony in Yavas, in the Mordovia region, about 306 miles southeast of Moscow.
CNN reported a statement from Griner’s Russian lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, which included:
“First, on behalf of Brittney, we would like to thank everyone who has expressed care for her. We can confirm that Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia.
“We visited her early this week. Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment. Considering that this is a very challenging period for her, there will be no further comments from us.”
The U.S. State Department complained that “the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. The Embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location.”
American Paul Whelan is also being held in the Mordovia region, but in a different facility.
Winters in Yavas are extremely cold, with average highs in November and December going from 29 F to 20 F and from 17 F to about 30 F from January to March. Average lows from from about 20 F down to 3 F, in February.
NCAA to examine allowing summer basketball games
In what could be the start of a radical shift in major-college men’s and women’s basketball that could have international implications, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division Council has formed working groups to examine summer basketball play:
“Many believe the initiative can provide a positive summer competition experience for student-athletes and can showcase the sport at a time of year other than during the traditional season.
“The working groups also will examine the overall landscape in college basketball during the summer period and may identify other opportunities to elevate the sport during the offseason.
“Both working groups will begin meeting next month with the goal of providing recommendations to the oversight committees by June.”
The earliest possible time that such games could commence would be the summer of 2024. Notable members of the men’s working group include University of Kentucky coach John Calipari and Ed Cooley from Providence; the women’s working group include Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer and North Carolina coach Carole Banghart.
Calipari, in an interview with The Athletic, said he has been campaigning to allow 2-3 games between Division I schools as exhibitions in July and/or August each year, in arenas and televised:
“I’ve been pushing for five years now that we need to be doing stuff in the summer to bring light to college basketball, like spring football, except we’re playing games. And now it’s catching on, like OK, maybe we do need to do this.”
Observed: This is a potentially important development which could have a direct impact on the World University Games. Instead of the current requirement by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) for national teams in the Universiade, a change by the NCAA and a corresponding change in the FISU rules to allow actual university teams to compete based on the location of the school, you could see Kentucky play Russia’s Moscow State University.
Or UCLA against Shanghai’s Fudan University, or Kansas vs. Montreal’s McGill University, and so on. It wouldn’t work for all countries, but it would for many.
This would, over time, be a game-changer for the World University Games, which struggles to have its team sports taken seriously as spectator attractions when limited to national teams that are aggregations of players in each country who barely know each other. The opportunity to involve major university “brands” in the University Games would increase its value immensely and not only in the U.S.
Imagine if the FISU were to agree to this as part of an agreement with the North Carolina bid group for a 2029 World University Games, with the idea of seeing teams from North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke and others in competition with foreign schools? The NCAA’s move toward possible summer competitions in basketball makes such concepts possible, but only for basketball, but for other team sports as well.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Olympic Winter Games 2022: Beijing ● Three activists who protested the Beijing 2022 Winter Games at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece in October 2021, were acquitted by a Greek court on Thursday.
Reuters reported that Tibetan student Tsela Zoksang, 19, Hong Kongese-American Joey Siu, 22, and a 35-year old Vietnamese-American activist were cleared of “attempting to pollute, damage, and distort a historical monument.” They unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner with the words ‘Free Hong Kong – Revolution,’ a day before the Olympic Flame transfer ceremony was scheduled to take place at Olympia.
Three other activists who protested against the Beijing Games at the ancient Olympia site during the flame handover are scheduled for trial on 1 December.
● Athletics and Swimming ● The ambitious joint marketing effort undertaken by USA Swimming and USA Track & Field will use Pasadena, California-based One & All as its activation agency. Its task:
“One & All will be responsible for developing sponsorship marketing materials, programs and strategies for the joint sales effort. The company will help identify, solicit and/or engage prospective sponsors for USA Track & Field and USA Swimming and any or all its official rights, events and media opportunities. One & All will effort to engage prospective media and content partners as two of the strongest national federations in the world of Olympic sport embark on the path of transforming how sponsors engage with the country’s premier Olympic sports and superstars.”
● Diving ● American Olympic icon Greg Louganis is offering 58 personal items – mostly photographs and autographed memorabilia – on auction and two Olympic gold medals in a private sale on his Web site.
The auction and private medal sale began on 11 November and runs through 4 December, with his 1984 Los Angeles Olympic gold in the men’s 3 m Springboard and 1988 Seoul gold in the men’s 10 m Platform available, as well as his 1976 Montreal Olympic silver in the 10 m.
Louganis, now 62, won the 3 m and 10 m events in 1984 and 1988, as well the 1976 Montreal silver. He would likely have won both events in 1980 at Moscow as well, but did not compete due to the U.S. boycott. He has already given away his 1984 Olympic 10 m gold and 1988 Olympic 3 m gold already, and may sell the others if an appropriate price is offered.
● Football ● FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI) was the only nomination received and will run unopposed for re-election at the 73rd FIFA Congress in Kigali, Rwanda on 16 March 2023.
● Volleyball ● The “Pro Volleyball Federation” announced its formation, expecting to play in February 2024 with an 8-10 team league, each with 14 players and a total of 16 matches. Players are to be paid $60-100,000 in base salary.
This is the third professional women’s volleyball project in the U.S., with Athletes United’s volleyball program and League One Volleyball (LOVB) both established in 2020.
These are separate from the FIVB’s Nations League program for national teams.
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