'We won’t tolerate': Sports world unites behind Floyd

In this Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019 file photo, Tokmac Nguen of Ferencvaros in action during the soccer Europa League Group H fifth round soccer match Ferencvaros vs. Espanyol at the Groupama Arena in Budapest, Hungary. (AP)
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Updated 02 June 2020

'We won’t tolerate': Sports world unites behind Floyd

Players who scored in the German and Hungarian football leagues removed their jerseys to display undershirts with the words: “Justice for George Floyd.”
Others from English football clubs Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle dropped to one knee during practice in a clear gesture of support.
In New Zealand, a Nigerian-born UFC fighter addressed a crowd of 4,000, imploring those listening to “speak up” and take peaceful action to register their discontent.
Dismayed by the death of Floyd and inspired by the actions of Colin Kaepernick, athletes from around the world have come together during one of the most politically charged periods in modern history.
“I can’t tolerate. I won’t tolerate. WE WON’T TOLERATE,” Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, one of the world’s most famous soccer players and a World Cup champion with France, wrote on his Instagram page to his 41 million followers alongside a picture of him looking to the sky with a clenched right fist.
It was powerful image to accompany the picture of 29 Liverpool players kneeling around the center circle at Anfield Stadium at the end of a practice session on Monday. Or the entire Chelsea squad kneeling down and forming the letter “H” — for humans — during training on Tuesday.
Their actions mimicked the one made by Kaepernick during the national anthem in 2016 in silent protest of police brutality and racism while then playing for the San Francisco 49ers.
Kaepernick’s gesture kicked off a period of pregame activism in the NFL and other sports but it didn’t gain a strong hold worldwide.
Not like the killing of Floyd, a black man and former community college basketball player who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and stopped pleading for air.
“It hit a nerve in this very particular time, which I think made people all around the world reflect on the environment we live, not only in the US but in all kinds of places where there is a perpetuation of discrimination and inequality,” Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, secretary general of global football players union FIFPro, told The Associated Press.
“We’re seeing a generation of players right now moving into the steps of athletes in the past who were socially quite engaged and willing to put themselves behind causes they care about. I think it’s incredibly empowering to see these players step forward and share in that fight for a better society.”
Things have escalated so much that FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, took the rare step of urging competition organizers to consider not sanctioning players who support justice for Floyd during matches. The laws of the game prohibit “any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images.”
“The application of the laws of the game … should use common sense and have in consideration the context surrounding the events,” FIFA said, acknowledging “the depth of sentiment” regarding Floyd’s death.
English football leaders have already said players will be able to show solidarity without the prospect of facing sanctions when games resume this month after a three-month break because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Emboldened football players appear to be more confident in speaking out about racism than ever before, including Jadon Sancho, who revealed a handwritten “Justice for George Floyd” message on his undershirt after scoring a goal for Borussia Dortmund on Sunday, openly and knowingly flouting the rules.
Marcus Rashford, a black striker for Manchester United, called for justice for Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor — two other black people killed in shooting incidents in America this year — on Twitter in the wake of Floyd’s death.
Football players may also take what has happened to Floyd more personally because of how often black players have been abused inside stadiums around Europe in recent years. The sanctions for racism — if they are handed out at all — can often be derisory.
As their own form of protest, some black players have taken to walking off the field after being racially abused by fans because many have little faith in authorities and governing bodies to effect change.
That’s the position many protesters in the United States are finding themselves in.
Baer-Hoffman said the reaction of sports stars was a reflection of uncertain times around the world since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“Maybe it’s because we are living in a time where the interconnectedness of people through the pandemic has become more conscious to us all,” he said.
“When you look at the images (of the incident involving Floyd), it is manifestly disturbing. It scares you and forces you to think … I think it stands for something much greater. For footballers in this context, they are people ... They are speaking out and, of course, have a bigger platform than most.”
When Kaepernick took a knee four years ago, United States star Megan Rapinoe was one of the few high-profile soccer players to champion his cause publicly. But the clear parallel between Kaepernick’s action and the knee of the police officer on Floyd’s neck has roused more athletes to speak out.
“In no way are we asking black lives to matter more than white lives,” DeAndre Yedlin, a US soccer international who plays with Newcastle in England, wrote on Twitter.
“All we’re asking is we are seen as equal, as more than 3/5 of a man, as humans. My heart goes out in solidarity to George Floyd, his family, and all of the countless number of victims that have had their lives taken at the hands of meaningless police brutality.”

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Milan turn to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Liverpool to revive glory

Updated 09 July 2020

Milan turn to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Liverpool to revive glory

ROME: Preparing to complete a ninth Serie A campaign without winning the Scudetto, AC Milan decided returning to the pinnacle of football required a new approach.

Jay-Z’s entertainment agency Roc Nation is at the center of it, linking up with Milan to scour the world for sponsors and use concerts and other high-profile events to attract new fans.

And who better to ask about how to end a title drought than the team that just won their league for the first time in 30 years?

“We have been talking to Liverpool,” Milan chief revenue officer Casper Stylsvig told The Associated Press, “because they’ve been through the same path as we are going through now.”

Milan are enduring their longest Serie A drought since the 1980s. Despite beating leader Juventus on Tuesday, even the top four Champions League places are out of reach in this pandemic-delayed season. It’s been seven years since Milan last competed in Europe’s elite competition.

“We’re working very hard to get back to where we should be, and from that perspective, it does help open doors when you have won seven Champions Leagues,” Stylsvig said. 

“Playing European football is top of the agenda. It is our natural habitat and somewhere we should be.”

Only Real Madrid has lifted the European Cup more often than Milan. But that seventh title was won 13 years ago, by beating Liverpool.

Now Liverpool are the lodestar for Milan, which have fallen to 21st in the Deloitte ranking of football’s moneymakers with revenue of €206.3 million  ($234 million) in the last financial year, a third of the income at the newly crowned Premier League champions.

“Four, five years ago, no one considered Liverpool and see where they are now,” Stylsvig said. “They obviously play very attractive football. They are winning, they have a fantastic manager, a fantastic team and now they are following suit from a commercial perspective. It has taken time, but their model seems to work.”

Liverpool have been run for a decade by John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group. Milan have also had American ownership for three years since the takeover by the Elliott Management hedge fund.

“We are obviously a global brand,” Stylsvig said in a telephone interview. “I’ve probably been talking too much in the Italian market in the last few years and (the coronavirus) sort of pushed us to think more global again.”

The pandemic that shut down sports produced the first public manifestation of the partnership with Roc Nation when Milan staged a live virtual fundraising concert headlined by Alicia Keys.

“I do think merging sport and entertainment could be the way of engaging new fans,” Stylsvig said. “The world has changed dramatically and we need to follow suit. Roc Nation is helping us, challenging us with that, having someone on the sideline to do that.”

The biggest audiences logging in to watch “From Milan with Love” were from China and the US.

With no games being played during the three-month Serie A shutdown — and crowds still prohibited from matches — Milan have had to find new ways of connecting with its fan base and fulfilling commercial deals.

“It’s been incredibly challenging,” Stylsvig said. “You basically have to rethink the model. So one of the first things we did was focusing much more on a digital space, creating content and trying to be engaging and trying to talk to our partners.”

Further down the line is moving into a new stadium, with plans to rebuild the San Siro it shares with Inter Milan.

“That will change the club,” Stylsvig said. “The revenues are incredibly important but also for the perception of the club.”