Victorious Japan kick off Asia’s first Rugby World Cup in style

Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima, left, fends off Russia’s Vladislav Sozonov to score his third try during the Rugby World Cup Pool A game at Tokyo Stadium. (AP Photo)
Updated 20 September 2019

Victorious Japan kick off Asia’s first Rugby World Cup in style

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was among the home fans decked out in red and white replica shirts as Kotaro Matsushima’s hat-trick ensured a 30-10 bonus-point win over Russia
  • The six-week tournament promises to be one of the most open in history with several teams considered capable of denying New Zealand an unprecedented third straight title

TOKYO: Hosts Japan kicked off the first Rugby World Cup in Asia with victory Friday as the game seeks to attract new converts outside its traditional heartlands in Europe and the southern hemisphere.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was among the home fans decked out in red and white replica shirts as Kotaro Matsushima’s hat-trick ensured a 30-10 bonus-point win over Russia at Tokyo Stadium.
The opening ceremony saw children representing the 20 competing teams belting out the World Rugby anthem “World in Union” before former All Black skipper Richie McCaw brought in the glittering Webb Ellis Cup.
Prince Akishino officially declared the tournament open, with World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont saying: “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for... We can all be very proud tonight. You have made history.”
The six-week tournament, which culminates on November 2, promises to be one of the most open in history, with several teams considered capable of denying New Zealand an unprecedented third straight title.
Organizers hope stars such as All Black Beauden Barrett, Ireland’s Johnny Sexton or South Africa’s Siya Kolisi will spark enthusiasm for the game in Japan and Asia more broadly.

The early signs are good, with officials saying the tournament should be close to a complete sell-out and a staggering 15,000 fans turning out on a public holiday just to watch Wales train.
“I often watch football and basketball but I don’t watch rugby,” salaryman Hirohide Kawase, 54, told AFP at the public viewing in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza district.
“So I thought this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The global rugby showpiece will serve as a tasty amuse-bouche for Japan as it prepares to host the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.
Officials claim that a promotional drive has inspired 1.8 million new rugby participants since 2016, one million of those in Japan.
But there are also reasons to believe the game in Japan is in need of support, with declining gates for club rugby matches and the country’s only Super Rugby franchise, the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, booted out of the competition for commercial and logistical reasons.
Much will depend on the success of the home team, which is aiming to build on the win against Russia to reach the quarter-finals for the very first time.
Japan served up the biggest shock in World Cup history in 2015 when they beat the mighty Springboks 34-32 in a match dubbed the “miracle of Brighton” that has even inspired a movie.
This time, however, no one is taking the Brave Blossoms lightly and they will do well to get out of a pool dominated by Ireland and Scotland.
The All Blacks remain the team to beat and their crunch encounter with South Africa on Saturday will go a long way to determining the outcome of Pool B — and maybe the next home of the Webb Ellis Cup.
Ireland come into the competition as the world’s number one side, but they often flatter to deceive when it comes to the World Cup and have never ventured beyond the quarter-finals.
Much rests on the shoulders of fly-half Sexton who at 34 is no longer in the first flush of youth and has suffered an alarming dip in form.
England, coached by Eddie Jones — who led Japan to that famous win over the Springboks — will also fancy their chances but they have been drawn in a tough Pool C alongside bitter Six Nations rivals France and the ever-dangerous Argentina.
Jones named a full-strength team for the opening match against Tonga, showing he is not taking the Pacific islanders lightly.
The other group sees Australia and Wales as the top teams and either one could trouble the business end of the competition.
But the gap between the traditional haves and have-nots of World Rugby has shrunk and more upsets are expected — with Fiji in particular considered a dangerous dark horse.
With the tournament held in natural disaster-prone Japan, organizers say they have put in a “meticulous” contingency plan against earthquakes and also typhoons, which are very much in season during the competition.
If a match cannot be played, it will count as a draw, resulting in the intriguing potential scoreline of New Zealand 0, Namibia 0.


Federer tops list of world’s highest-paid athletes

Updated 18 min 45 sec ago

Federer tops list of world’s highest-paid athletes

  • The bulk of Federer’s haul in the past 12 months was from appearance fees and endorsement deals
  • Next on the list was Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo at $105 million, $60 million in salary

NEW YORK: Roger Federer topped the 2020 Forbes magazine list of highest-paid global athletes announced Friday, leading the lineup for the first time with pre-tax earnings of $106.3 million (95.5 million euros).
The Swiss tennis legend, a men’s record 20-time Grand Slam singles champion, becomes the first player from his sport atop the annual list since its 1990 debut, rising from fifth in 2019.
Federer’s haul over the past 12 months included $100 million from appearance fees and endorsement deals plus $6.3 million in prize money. His previous best showing was second in 2013.
“His brand is pristine, which is why those that can afford to align with him clamor to do so,” University of Southern California sports business professor David Carter told the magazine.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic that shut down sports worldwide caused the first decline since 2016 in the total income of the world’s 100 top-paid athletes, a 9% dip from last year to $3.6 billion. Another plunge is expected next year from the shutdown.
Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo was second on the list at $105 million, $60 million in salary and $45 million from endorsements, with Argentine football hero Lionel Messi third on $104 million, $32 million of that from sponsorship deals.
Messi and Ronaldo, who have traded the top spot three of the past four years, saw their combined incomes dip $28 million from last year due to salary cuts when European clubs halted play in March.
Brazilian footballer Neymar was fourth overall on $95.5 million, $25 million from endorsements, while NBA star LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers was fifth on $88.2 million, $60 million of that from endorsements.
NBA star Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors was sixth on $74.4 million with former teammate Kevin Durant next on $63.9 million.
Tiger Woods, the reigning Masters champion and a 15-time major winner, was eighth on the list and tops among golfers at $62.3 million, all but $2.3 million from sponsor deals.
Woods topped the Forbes list a record 12 times before an infidelity scandal helped end his run.
Two NFL quarterbacks rounded out the top 10 with Kirk Cousins ninth at $60.5 million and Carson Wentz 10th on $59.1 million.
The top 100 featured athletes from 21 nations and 10 sports. More NBA players made the list than those from any other sport at 35, but 31 NFL players made the cut, up from 19 from last year, and they pulled down the most money of any league, aided by finishing the season before the deadly virus outbreak.
Major League Baseball, whose start to the 2020 campaign was postponed by the virus outbreak, put only one player on the list after 15 in 2019. The lone MLB player was Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who was 57th at $27.3 million with only $750,000 from endorsements.
Spanish footballer Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid captain, was last among the 100 on $21.8 million, including $3 million in endorsements.
Two women, tennis stars Naomi Osaka of Japan and Serena Williams of the United States, made the list, the most females on it since 2016. Osaka ranked 29th overall on $37.4 million ($34 million in endorsements), four spots ahead of Williams with $36 million ($32 million in endorsements).
Federer, 38, boasts the biggest sponsorship lineup among active athletes with Moet & Chandon and Barilla among those paying from $3 to $30 million to link him with their brands.
Federer, who spent a record 310 weeks as world number one, reached 18 of 19 Grand Slam finals from 2005-2010.
Only Woods has joined Federer in making $100 million in sponsor deals in a single year.
Federer’s newest deal is with Swiss running shoe On, where he is an investor, but several sponsors have been with him for more than a decade, including Rolex, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz and Wilson.
A split with Nike in 2018 opened Federer to Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo’s 10-year deal worth $300 million.